A Staten Island trial court recently dismissed a lawsuit arising from injuries sustained by an 11-year old judo student (Anthony Morales, Jr.) while training with a more senior, older, heavier, and taller student during a class. The case is Morales v. Longview Academy of Extreme Martial Arts, Inc., decided July 29, 2013.
The injury occurred when the older student “attempted … a round kick, which [Junior] attempted to block, injuring his ankle and sustaining a left distal tibia Salter II fracture” involving a “foot sweep to the side of the foot which struck the ankle.” (There is no indication that the older student was instructed to sweep plaintiff’s leg or foot.)
Plaintiffs (the injured student and his father suing on his behalf) argued that the defendants owed Junior “a duty of care requiring proper supervision by qualified personnel trained in the procedures and traditions of the martial arts”, that they were required to furnish him “with competent instruction and suitable facilities for his teaching lessons”, and that his “injuries resulted solely from the negligence of the Defendants and without any negligence on his part.”
The court disagreed, and granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ complaint.
It began by stating the law applicable to sports-related injuries:
In a sports related personal injury case, assumption of the risk dictates the amount of duty owed by the owner. … [A]n owner or operator of a sporting venue can be relieved of liability when a consenting participant is aware of the risks; has an appreciation of the nature of the risks; and voluntarily assumes the risks. A premises owner continues to owe a duty to exercise care to make the conditions as safe as they appear to be. If the risks of the activity are fully comprehended or perfectly obvious, plaintiff has consented to them and defendant has performed its duty. By engaging in a sport or recreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport that generally flow from such participation. Additionally, the applicable standard should include whether the conditions caused by the defendant’s negligence are unique and created a dangerous condition over and above the usual dangers that are inherent in the sport.
First, the court rejected plaintiff’s theory that defendant was negligent by “mismatching” Junior and his older, physically larger sparring partner:
The defendant has submitted the affidavit of George Pasiuk who has over fifty years’ experience in the field of judo. In his affidavit, he stated that in the martial art of judo, it is not against any accepted practice, standard of care, rule, or regulation to pair an adult student with a minor student for the purposes of engaging in judo drills. He further stated that in the martial art of judo, there is no requirement, accepted practice, standard of care, rule, or regulation which mandates that participants be paired on the basis of height, weight, age, or experience for the purposes of engaging in drills. The expert’s affidavit demonstrates that the defendant was not negligent in pairing Morales, Jr. with an adult for purposes of training drills. … [I]n a training class it is not the custom, nor is it required that students be matched by size, rank or sex.
The court likewise rejected plaintiff’s claim that defendant was negligent by failing to properly supervise plaintiff:
While the instructor, Sensei Sal and Morales, Sr. were talking to each other on the side of the judo mat, they both observed Morales, Jr. fall after contact with the older, larger student. Sensei Sal Della Croce, who was described as a second degree black belt and a Master Champion, has more than sufficient training to run a judo class. He was not absent from the training by standing with Morales, Sr. on the side of the mat. Even if he were on the mat, he could not have prevented the injury, which occurred in the normal course of training.
Judo is a contact sport. Morales, Jr. has been engaging in the sport of judo since he was five years old. He acknowledges that he has also participated in mixed martial arts, such as karate, kickboxing and grappling.
Anthony Morales, Sr. should have known of the possibility that his son could be injured while playing a contact sport. Whenever a person participates in any sporting event, there is always a chance that the participant could be injured. The chance that the participant could be injured is a risk he or she must be aware of before engaging in any sporting activity, especially the martial arts.