Law School Case Brief
Karas v. Strevell - 227 Ill. 2d 440, 318 Ill. Dec. 567, 884 N.E.2d 122 (2008)
Every person owes a duty of ordinary care to guard against injuries to others. A person who breaches this duty is deemed negligent and may be held financially liable if his conduct proximately causes injury to another. An exception to the standard of ordinary care has been adopted for participants engaged in contact sports. Under this exception, a participant in a contact sport may not be held liable for negligent conduct which injures a coparticipant. Instead, liability will arise only if a participant intentionally, or willfully and wantonly, injures a coparticipant. Stated otherwise, in a contact sport the duty owed by a participant to a fellow participant is the duty to refrain from willful and wanton or intentional misconduct.
Plaintiff minor was playing in an organized game of ice hockey when he was bodychecked from behind by two opposing players, causing him injury. The minor, through his father, brought suit, alleging that defendant hockey associations (HAs) had engaged in negligent and willful and wanton conduct (WWC), as well as a civil conspiracy. The trial court granted defendants' motion under 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/2-615 (2004) to dismiss the complaint based primarily on the contact sports exception. On appeal, the Illinois appellate court affirmed the dismissal only of the WWC claim against the HAs. Plaintiff sought further appellate review.
Did the trial court err when it dismissed the complaint based on contact sports exception?
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that there was no dispute that ice hockey was a contact sport. It found that a duty to refrain from WWC was inapplicable to contact sports, as such conduct was often an inherent, fundamental part of the sport. Rather, the appropriate standard was that a participant breached the duty of care to a coparticipant if there was an intentional injury or conduct that was totally outside the range of ordinary activity involved in the sport. Similarly, the contact sports exception applied to the HAs, and there was nothing alleged regarding conduct totally outside of the ordinary activity range. The conspiracy claim also failed. Thus, the state supreme court reversed that portion of the appellate court judgment that reinstated the dismissed claims, and in so doing, it affirmed the judgment of the trial court that dismissed the complaint in its entirety. However, the matter was remanded with instructions to permit the father to amend the complaint.
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