Illinois Bar Journal

The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

March 2010Volume 98Number 3Page 128

Illinois Law Update

March 2010 Illinois Bar Journal Cover Image

Cases

Illinois Appellate Court

Clarifications made to the contact sports exception to negligence claims
Weisberg v Chicago Steel, No. 2-08-0789, 2009 WL 5196554 (2d D 2009)

On December 31, 2009, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District, reversed and remanded the decision of the Circuit Court of Du Page County, which found that the contact sports exception to ordinary negligence claims applied to a trainer of an amateur hockey team.

The plaintiff was employed by Chicago Acceleration and was assigned to provide athletic training services to Chicago Steel, an amateur hockey team. Among other duties, the plaintiff refilled water bottles for the Chicago Steel players during practice. To notify the plaintiff that water bottles needed to be refilled, players would bang their sticks on the locker room door, and the plaintiff would proceed to the bench next to the ice rink to refill the bottles. On October 24, 2004, the plaintiff heard a player's stick banging on the locker room door and he proceeded to the bench area to refill the water bottles. As he entered the bench area, the plaintiff was struck in the right eye by a hockey puck shot by Lampl, a Chicago Steel player. The plaintiff suffered a fracture below his right eye, which resulted in permanent vision loss.

On July 15, 2005, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendants, Chicago Steel and Lampl. Count I alleged that the defendant Chicago Steel committed negligence by failing to prevent players from shooting pucks toward the bench area and count II alleged that the defendant Lampl committed negligence by shooting pucks at water bottles on the bench. In addition, counts III and IV alleged that the defendants engaged in willful and wanton conduct. On June 30, 2008, the trial court granted the defendants' section 2-619 motion to dismiss with regard to the negligence claims. The trial court concluded that the contact sports exception applied to the plaintiff, because he was within an area naturally encompassed by the game, namely the bench, although he was outside of the actual game.

On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the trial court erred in dismissing counts I and II pursuant to the contact sports exception. The basis of the plaintiff's appeal was twofold. First, the plaintiff argued that the contact sports exception did not apply to him because he was not a "participant" in a contact sport. Second, even if he was considered a participant, the contact sports exception still did not apply, because the conduct of Lampl, purposefully shooting pucks toward the bench, was totally outside the range of ordinary activities associated with ice hockey.

In reversing the decision of the trial court, the appellate court stated that the contact sports exception prevented liability for injuries to co-participants for injuries caused by ordinary negligence. Generally, the contact sports exception allows recovery for injuries resulting from willful and wanton misconduct, but not ordinary negligence, in order to avoid placing an unreasonable burden on vigorous participation in sports.

The appellate court stated, that "whether the contact sports exception applied to a non-participant defendant was a policy determination that rested on the circumstances of the sport and its inherent risk, the relationship of the parties to the sport and each other, and whether imposing broader liability on the defendant 'would harm the sport or cause it to be changed or abandoned.'" Weisbergat *3, quoting Karas v Strevell, 227 Ill 2d 440, 465, 884 NE2d 122, 136 (2008). The appellate court concluded that the plaintiff, as a trainer employed by an independent training company that contracted to provide training services to the entire ice arena, did not bear a signifi-cant relationship to either the sport of hockey or the participants, at least not enough to warrant application of the contact sports exception. Accordingly, the appellate court ruled that extending the contact sports exception to a trainer would extend the exception beyond the purposes for which it was originally intended, and so reversed the decision of the trial court.

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Editor-in-Chief: Katy Dixon  
     
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