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Court case demonstrates tort law and liability in sport

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Sport Law, by John O. Spengler, Paul M. Anderson, Daniel P. Connaughton, and Thomas A. Baker III.

Day v. Ouachita Parish School Board et al. (2002)

As a member of the freshman football team at West Monroe High School (WMHS), Morgan Day was required to participate in a weight training class held during school hours. The class was supervised by WMHS’ strength coach and three other coaches. Sixty football players were divided into five groups and were supervised by one of the coaches. Several senior students on the team helped the coaches supervise and instruct the class participants.

During one of the classes, Morgan injured his back while lifting weights. The next day, he played in a freshman football game even though his back was bothering him. Shortly thereafter, Morgan sought medical treatment. After an examination, the treating orthopedic surgeon provided Morgan with a written medical excuse which stated, "(1) No football for 1 week (2) No weightlifting, squats or power cleans. Diagnosis-lumbar strain and injured L-5 disc" (p. 1040).

Morgan presented the note to the freshman coach and the note was posted in the office. The coaches testified that they believed the physician’s note meant that Morgan could not participate in football or weightlifting for 1 week. Morgan and his mother claimed that they interpreted the note to mean that Morgan could not play football for 1 week and could not lift weights for an indefinite amount of time.

One day after the medical excuse was posted, Morgan was observing the class but not lifting weights when an assistant coach instructed him to perform a dumbbell power clean push press. Morgan reminded the coach that he was medically excused; however, the coach insisted that the exercise would not affect his low back. After performing a few repetitions of the exercise, Morgan experienced severe pain and needed to lie down.

Morgan again saw the orthopedic surgeon complaining of back pain. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed a disc protrusion between the fourth and fifth vertebrae. The physician wrote another medical excuse that prohibited Morgan from all weightlifting and football activities until further notice. Morgan was referred to another specialist. He also went to other orthopedic surgeons and a neurosurgeon.

After the disc injury, Morgan was unable to play high school football or baseball. He lost interest in school and failed his classes because of excessive absences. He withdrew from WMHS and enrolled in an alternative school. Morgan’s mother sued the school board and the coach who instructed Morgan to perform the lift after the medical excuse had been delivered. The trial court found the defendants liable for Morgan’s back injury (Day v. Ouachita Parish School Board et al., 2002).


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