Court Permits Football-Related Injury Claims to Continue

In honor of Super Bowl Sunday, here’s a case involving a football-related injury. In Bocelli v. County of Nassau, plaintiff sued after he sustained injuries while playing flag football in Stillwell Woods Park.  He claimed that “as he was running, he slipped and fell upon an exposed sprinkler head and sustained injuries to his left knee and leg.”

Defendants sought to dismiss the case on the ground that plaintiff “assumed the risk of injury by voluntarily participating in a flag football game.”  The trial court granted the motion, and the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed.

The court summarized the applicable law:

If an athlete is injured as a result of a defect in, or feature of, the field, court, track, or course upon which the sport is being played, the owner of the premises will be protected as long as the risk presented by the condition is inherent in the sport. If the playing surface is as safe as it appears to be, and the condition in question is not concealed such that it unreasonably increases risk assumed by the players, the doctrine applies.

Applying this rule, the court held that the trial court incorrectly granted summary judgment to defendants:

Here, the defendants failed to provide any evidence that the risk of injury from a sprinkler head was inherent in the game of flag football or that the sprinkler head was not concealed and did not unreasonably increase the risk associated with playing flag football. Notably, we have held that the assumption of risk doctrine was applicable where a softball player was injured on a sprinkler head (see Bruno v Town of Hempstead, 248 AD2d 576, 576 [1998]). However, in Bruno, the record included evidence that in-ground sprinklers were a common feature of the playing fields upon which the plaintiff played and that the plaintiff was aware of such sprinklers. In this case, by contrast, the defendants failed to submit any evidence as to how common sprinklers were on the fields of Stillwell Woods Park, or whether the plaintiff or other players were aware of the existence of such sprinklers and, thus, consented to the risk posed by them. Thus, under the circumstances of this case, the defendants did not establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, and we need not consider whether the plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion was sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact.

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