Legal Aspects of Sport

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William David

MCAA 580 Legal Aspects of Sport

Legal Issue Paper


Intro/statement of issue/relivence

Many physical education teachers are being sued for negligence while on the job for what may seem to be petty reasons. Each and every year there are hundreds of reported cases that make it to court that pin responsibility and liability on the part of the teacher. Simple accidents occur such as a student not wearing proper athletic shoes or slipping on the gym floor, have resulted in trail cases. Other case studies put liability on the teacher for not explaining all the rules to floor hockey and in turn, a student breaking their nose in the process. These are just a few short cases that are becoming a recent trend in high school athletic programs and physical education classes, and at an alarming rate. Physical education teachers are at risk each and everyday, and with more and more schools becoming impacted and having to deal with budget cuts, it becomes an environment with increasingly higher amounts of risk. Teachers are limited to the amount of students they can watch at one time and unless the school districts want the proper curriculum to be taught, they need to figure out a way to supply more equipment and lower the amount of students per classroom in order to make the classroom a more effective learning environment. Physical educators should be focusing on the content and safety of their classrooms, but not to the extent of having to make sure every kid has his or her shoes tied tight. We live in a society where blame needs to be placed on someone when a student gets injured and instead of looking at the teachers and administration, we need to sometimes look at the parents and their true motives. How can teachers be protected from such malice blame?

Major Cases related to the issue:
There were a slew of incidents involving substitute physical education teachers and educators who were in charge of over one hundred kids at a single time. These cases appeared some thirty years ago but set the stage for government intervention and laws to protect teachers. It also set a precedent in the procedures regulating substitutes and the hiring process. In a Michigan case an elementary school student was injured playing "kill" at recess under the supervision of a substitute teacher. It was common practice in the school for the game to be played and the principal was aware of its use. The student filed suit naming the absent teacher, the principal and the school district as defendants. The court felt that the use of the game was inappropriate and constituted negligence. (Cook v. Bennett, 1979) In determining the liability of the regular classroom teacher, the court noted that the "threshold element of a negligence case is that there must exist a duty. . . . "(Cook v. Bennett, at 610) Although the teacher owed a duty to exercise reasonable care over students in his charge, this duty "is coterminus with the teacher's presence at school. Supervision implies oversight. In order to oversee student activity, a teacher must be present to observe and control." (Cook v. Bennett, at 610) The court found that the regular teacher, by not being present at the school owed no duty to supervise his pupils and was therefore, not liable. The school district, though normally liable for the negligence of its employees, was protected by governmental immunity by Michigan law. In contrast, the court ruled that the supervisory function of the principal was ministerial in nature and not protected by immunity. The principal enhanced the likelihood of the injury by failing to properly supervise the teacher and by failing to establish rules and guidelines for the safety of the pupils. Thus she was found negligent. In most high school physical education classes, it is not uncommon for one teacher to supervise two classes at the same time. Teachers work out deals to leave early for doctors...
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