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How The Competitive Sports Doctrine Defense Works Under Texas Law

In our continuing series on defenses, we now look at what is known as the "competitive sports doctrine." Below, we explain what it is, and also how it has exceptions.


Questions answered on this page:

  • What defines the "competitive sports doctrine" defense in Texas personal injury case?
  • What are some exceptions to the "competitive sports doctrine" under Texas law?
  • How does an experienced Dallas-based attorney help me win?

How the competitive sports doctrine works.

When you willfully engage in a risky activity, you are said to have "assumed the risk." This doctrine of law essentially recognizes that grownups are free to do whatever they want within the law, but when they do something they know is dangerous, they can't blame another party for negligently hurting them. The competitive sports defense is a derivative of this doctrine, applied specifically to sporting events.

A classic example would be a pickup game of tackle football. If a participant gets blindsided while trying to run in a touchdown by a competitor and breaks a leg, most likely a court would find that---given the nature of the sport---it wasn't unforeseeable that such an injury could happen and the injured person assumed the risk. Courts generally don't like sticking their nose into situations like this where people willingly put themselves into harm's way.

The exceptions to the competitive sports doctrine.

But just because you step onto a field, course, or court, that doesn't mean that it's a free for all with no rules. The law acknowledges that "reckless and intentional" acts are not protected from the doctrine. Insofar as conduct exhibits a conscious disregard for or an extreme degree of risk OR where you can plainly show that the bad actor wanted to bring about the serious harm, the perpetrator can be sued. Here are some examples of acts a court may well consider reckless or intentional:

  • Some amateur racers are enjoying a day at the local go-kart track. Near a turn, Bob gets "tapped" by Steve, a fellow racer. Bob spins his kart out and is enraged at the perceived foul play. In order to get his revenge, he waits until Steve almost completes a lap before intentionally driving the wrong way in order to plow straight into Steve. The resulting accident would likely not be protected from the competitive sports defense.
  • A solo golfer is standing next to his ball about 100 yards from the green, on which four other golfers are getting ready to putt. Thinking that the foursome ahead of him is playing too slowly, the solo golfer decides to hit his ball onto the green anyhow to "speed them up." The ball hits a putting golfer and causes brain damage. Any reasonable person would know that a solid golf ball descending from the sky could harm or even kill a person.

Further, protections under this doctrine do not apply to nonparticipants, nor does it apply to event sponsors in charge of instruction, maintaining the equipment and facilities, or other activities unrelated to the conduct of the game. This means, for example, that if a go-kart track fails to adequately secure the gas tanks on its karts and a fire results, they can't claim the competitive sports doctrine should bar you from filing suit and pursuing your damages.

All that the competitive sports doctrine is designed to cover are the ordinary risks that someone assumes in playing competitive sports. What is considered to be a reasonable risk and what is considered to be something falling outside of reasonable depends largely on the particular sport in question. For instance, if someone sustains a broken arm when tackled in a football game, that is the kind of risk that any football player assumes just by stepping onto the field. However, if someone is tackled in a game of tennis and their arm is broken, that would not be something that is considered to "come with the territory" of a tennis match."

The way this doctrine is used as a defense is that an injured person sues a teammate, an opponent, a referee, the facility that hosted the event, etc., and the entity who is sued is free to argue, "Sorry, pal, but that's just a part of playing the game." If the injured person is indeed harmed through normal conduct that occurs in that type of sporting event, then their case is likely to be dismissed when the defendants raise the Competitive Sports Doctrine Defense.

To overcome the defenses, you need a thorough attorney.

At Grossman Law Offices, we don't back down when defense lawyers throw up fancy-sounding defenses against our clients. Instead, we do a full investigation of the facts, secure the evidence, and fight in court to help our clients win. Have you been hurt? Call us at (855) 326-0000 now for help.


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