High school sports are complicated, highly orchestrated sporting events with some school districts sinking millions into their sports budget and benefactors providing private Learjets to and from sporting events all across the state. Some stadiums cost several tens of millions of dollars with professional sports level equipment and trainers. At the same time, Texas does not mandate that school districts carry medical insurance for injuries sustained by high school athletes during competition or training. In fact, the state agency that governs extracurricular activities, the University Interscholastic League does not recommend that schools carry insurance, although they do offer insurance at a reduced rate.
Catastrophic Injury Insurance Deductibles
Of the several different policy types that exist is coverage for catastrophic injuries, with a steep, practically unattainable $25,000 deductible that is the responsibility of the parents or guardian. Broken bones, ligament tears and similarly common sports injuries often do not even approach the deductible. To add to the problematic nature of coverage of these injuries is that oftentimes there is no underlying health insurance to cover the child. Paying for these injuries could be the financial ruin of some families. Other districts pay for the catastrophic coverage and also provide gap coverage for the first $25,000. While significant injuries are rare, only 468 nationwide in high school sports in the 29 years from 1982 to 2011, that means little to the 468 students and their families and loved ones. When there is a major injury, such as a spinal cord injury, the cost for the first year is estimated at approximately $1.04 million.
Proving a Civil Rights Violation to Recover
Who pays for these injuries what do they pay for? In the past, some students sued the schools in Federal Court based on the theory that the school district, acting through a coach, trainer, or some other school employee, violated their civil rights. The standard is high; there has to be evidence that the school official acted with deliberate indifference to the student’s rights. Factually, there has to be evidence that the student alerted the school official. Telling other teammates is not enough. They have to tell their coach or trainer. If they still make them or try to convince them to play, only then can the minimum amount of evidence exist for the case to move forward.
Assumption of the Risk
It is important to note that this is only the minimum evidence necessary to proceed and to prevent the case from being dismissed. Certain facts allow for a student to sue other student-athletes as well as league officials for failure to enforce the rules when those athletes violate the rules of the game and result in catastrophic injuries. (See the Competitive Sports Doctrine.) Many times cases are dismissed due to the fact that students and parents assume the risk of injury when the student plays a dangerous sport such as football or wrestling. School can only reduce risk, it is practically impossible to eliminate it.