Sporting events are fertile grounds for injuries – not just to the participants but also to the parents, grandparents and coaches who attend. These injuries sometimes result in suits against youth leagues and public entities who run and host the events. However, there are strong defenses to these suits on behalf of both the leagues and the public entities.
In Kenny v. Bridgewater Golden Eagles, the plaintiff mother of a flag football player sued the league and town when she fell while walking down an embankment between two fields. She was assigned to volunteer at the snack bar located at the bottom of the embankment and was on her way to her shift when she slipped on dewy grass. She could have avoided the embankment by walking around the field, but chose the shortest route.
Significantly, the town council and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had approved the design of the recreational facility in 1977. The original plans included the embankment area. The facility was built as designed, and no changes were made to the grading anytime thereafter. In all of the years that the fields had been in use, there had been no other prior injuries on the embankment.
The town had the documentation to show that it was entitled to immunity for the suit based upon the public body’s approval of the design that was built as approved. N.J.S.A. 59:4-6(a) offers plan and design immunity under these circumstances. The Appellate Division affirmed that once the design immunity attached, there could be no basis for liability against the town.
Likewise, the plaintiff had no recourse against the league since she could not sustain the basic elements of a claim for negligence. Specifically, the league had no duty of care with the respect to the grading of the park. The league did not own, design, construct, maintain, or control the park. It merely was permitted to use it during the fall. As a matter of fairness and public policy, the court refused to impose a duty under these circumstances.
Although the league also raised the Charitable Immunity Act as a further defense, the court did not reach that argument after finding no possibility for liability against it.
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