Wrongful Death Lawsuits from Sports Related Heat Stroke

Learn about the legal issues and lawsuits that may arise if someone dies from heat stroke during a sporting activity.

While participating in sports can be an extremely enjoyable and fulfilling experience, often times those involved can suffer various injuries. While the most common injuries involve fractures, broken bones, concussions and other impact related injuries, heat strokes from over-exertion is becoming one of the most dangerous injuries a participant can suffer. The effects of a heat stroke can range from mild (usually requiring some sort of hospitalization for fluid intake) to extreme (death). In the most extreme cases, the coaches or school in charge of the practice may be subjected to a wrongful death lawsuit.

Dehydration & Heat Stroke

The most common heat-related illnesses are dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If not treated properly, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion which in turn can lead to stroke. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that players are receiving an adequate amount of fluids to prevent them from being dehydrated during workouts. However, even while being hydrated, the most experienced players can befall heat stroke during extreme temperature workouts. It is very important to be able to tell the symptoms of heat-related illnesses:

Dehydration: thirst, dry skin/mouth/mucus membranes, concentrated or dark urine, headaches, cramps, dizziness, confusion or irritability.

Heat Exhaustion: pale, cool, clammy skin, profuse perspiration, headaches, dizziness, delirium, nausea, rapid breathing / rapid heart rate.

Heat Stroke: wobbling or collapsing, elevated body temperature, hot and dry skin, harsh / loud breathing, convulsions and even unconsciousness.

Legal Remedy for Heat Stroke During Sports

If a player were to have a heat stroke which causes death under the supervision of a coach or school, that supervisor could be held liable under a wrongful death theory. Of course, sometimes even the most careful and attentive coaches cannot prevent a heat stroke from occurring; if they followed all the rules and regulations regarding that particular sport’s practices they will not be liable for the death of that player. However, it has often been seen that some coaches recklessly ignore certain rules and guidelines prescribed for a safe practice in the heat. Their negligence in doing so forms the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit arising out of a heat stroke death during sports.

Wrongful Death

When someone dies due to the legal fault of another person, the survivors may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In the context of heat stroke deaths, legal fault can be established by examining the actions and decisions of coaches and the schools / organizations they represent. If the coaches did not adhere to the rules and standards established by respective authorities (for instance, high school athletic associations) they can be found to be negligent or even reckless (aware of risk but proceeded anyway).

Coach's Liability / School's Liability for Wrongful Death

Mostly all high school athletic associations place strict restrictions on the length of practices, amount of breaks needed, when full uniforms can be worn in practice, how easily players can access water and other various guidelines which schools, organizations and coaches must follow. If a coach or school fails to abide by these rules and a heat stroke occurs, they could very well be liable for wrongful death in the event of a fatality. The coach and respective organization would be said to be negligent in the fact they disregarded safety requirements and proceeded with a dangerous practice anyway.

For example, a coach and the school he worked for was liable for the wrongful death of one of his players when the player died of heat stroke during a four hour practice. The respective athletic association said the maximum time length for a practice during that specific time of the year was ninety minutes per workout; if the coach wanted to have two practices in one day, a minimum two hour break was required between the workouts. By holding a four hour practice which obviously violated a strict and well-thought safety requirement, the coach was found to have been negligent and at legal fault for the player’s death.

To learn more, see Liability in a Personal Injury Claim.

Other Avenues of Wrongful Death Due to Heat Stroke

  • Not providing easy access to water
  • Not taking a specific player’s medical issues into account during practice
  • Practicing too long
  • Holding practice when the heat index is too high (most athletic associations have a maximum allowable heat index to practice in)
  • Making players workout in full uniforms when there is a high heat index
  • Using uncommon and dangerous workout routines (i.e., twenty 100 yard sprints without breaks)

Sickle-Cell & Heat Strokes

Twenty one college football players have collapsed and died as a result of training over the past decade. At least eight were carriers of the sickle-cell trait, a genetic disorder than can unpredictably turn deadly during rigorous exercise. Recent studies have shown that players who have the sickle-cell trait are much more susceptible to heat stroke when involved in intense workouts in extreme heat. If a coach knows a player carries the sickle-cell trait, he will be held to a higher standard when his actions are reviewed by his allowance of that player to partake in the more strenuous workouts which frequently involve over-exertion. If the coach was negligent in allowing that player to partake in practice despite his medical condition and death results, the coach and his/her respective organization could be liable for wrongful death.

Getting Legal Help

The ability to sue and outcomes of such wrongful death lawsuits will depend on local statutes, rules, and regulations which are different from state to state. Heat strokes arising from sports can be extreme complex legal cases and if you are thinking about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in response to a heat stroke death it may be best to consult an attorney familiar with your state’s sporting regulations.

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