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Law School Case Brief

Pfister v. Shusta - 167 Ill. 2d 417, 212 Ill. Dec. 668, 657 N.E.2d 1013 (1995)

Rule:

Under the contact sports exception, participants in contact sports may be held liable for injuries to co-participants caused by wilful and wanton or intentional misconduct, but are not liable for injuries caused by ordinary negligence.

Facts:

Plaintiff Sean Pfister and Defendant Terry Shusta were college students at Illinois State University. While waiting in a dormitory lobby for friends, plaintiff, defendant and two other students spontaneously began kicking a crushed aluminum soda can. The four students divided into two teams with two persons on each team, and set up informal goals against the walls of the dormitory lobby. Each team attempted to kick the crushed can into the opposing team's goal. Plaintiff allegedly pushed defendant toward a wall in an attempt to gain control of the can. Defendant responded by allegedly pushing plaintiff, causing plaintiff to fall. While attempting to break his fall, plaintiff put his left hand and forearm through the glass door of a fire extinguisher case on the wall of the dormitory. Plaintiff sustained injuries to his left hand and forearm. Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint against defendant, alleging that his injuries were caused by defendant’s negligence. In response, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the activity at issue constituted a contact sport, and therefore, he could not be held liable for injuries caused by simple negligent conduct. The circuit court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the activity at issue fell within the contract sports exception to liability based on the standard of ordinary care applicable to negligence cases. The appellate court reversed. Defendant sought further appellate review.

Issue:

Did the activity at issue fall within the contract sports exception to liability?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court declined to adopt the appellate court's approach and held that the circuit court properly applied the contact sports exception bar to liability for injuries caused by the mere simple negligence alleged in plaintiff's complaint. According to the Court, the contact sports exception allowed recovery for injuries resulting from wilful and wanton and intentional misconduct while taking into account the voluntary nature of participation in games where physical contact was anticipated and where the risk of injury caused by that contact was inherent. The Court held that the circuit court properly applied the contact sports exception to the standard of ordinary care, and did not err in granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

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