Class action after getting injured in a sport and return-to-game protocol. | USA Water Polo

The plaintiff alleged that her minor daughter, H.C., was returned to play as a goalie in a water polo tournament after being hit in the face by the ball and while manifesting concussion symptoms, received additional hits to the head, and as a result, she suffered severely debilitating post-concussion syndrome.

To prevail in a negligence claim under California law, a plaintiff must plead the existence of a duty, a breach of that duty, and damages proximately caused by the breach. California Civil Code § 1714(a)’s “primary assumption of risk” doctrine provides that an entity does not owe a duty of care where “conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous . . . are an integral part of the sport itself.” Knight v. Jewett, 834 P.2d 696, 708 (Cal. 1992)

Plaintiff alleged that USA Water Polo was liable for injuries suffered when H.C. was hit in the head again after she returned to play. The panel held that under California law, secondary head injuries such as those suffered by H.C. were not “inherent in the sport” of water polo, and therefore USA Water Polo owed a duty of care to H.C. The panel rejected USA Water Polo’s contention that it fulfilled its duty of care to H.C. with the existence of its “Rules Governing Coaches’ Conduct” that was applicable to all of its teams.

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