In Tauro v. Gait and Syracuse University, Plaintiff, a varsity womens’ lacrosse player at Syracuse University, was struck in the head with a lacrosse ball thrown by her coach , allegedly negligently. Plaintiff was injured during a ground ball drill, and plaintiff said she was unprepared to receive the hard, overhand pass that struck her in the head.
Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that a waiver signed by plaintiff established a complete defense to the allegations, and that the complaint failed to state a cause of action because plaintiff assumed the risk of injury.
In the waiver, plaintiff agreed that she was “fully aware … that … participation [in lacrosse] involves risk of injury ….” She further acknowledged in the waiver that she accepted, and assumed all such risks, whether or not presently foreseeable and whether or not caused by the negligent acts or omissions of others.
The trial court denied the summary judgment motion. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, upheld the lower court’s decision because they ruled the defendant’s actions did not fall within the assumption of the risk doctrine for sports. The court held that defendant’s actions were totally inconsistent with the drill and as such, throwing the ball toward her head was grossly negligent and extremely reckless. The conditions caused by the defendants’ negligence were unique and created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the activity. As such, the waiver signed by the plaintiff was not valid due to the gross negligence of the coach’s action.
Syracuse University’s Women’s Lacrosse Team is nationally ranked. Gary Gait, the defendant, is still the coach of the team.
Thanks to Paul Vitale for his contribution to this post and please write to Mike Bono with any questions.