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Indiana Supreme Court Rejects Claim for Sports Injury

By: Charles F. Albrecht

CFAThe Indiana Supreme Court recently granted summary judgment to a defendant sports participant sued for injuring a classmate during a karate class drill. Megenity v. Dunn, 2017 Ind. LEXIS 109 (Ind. Feb. 16, 2017) arose from a karate class in southern Indiana, in which students gathered to perform a drill called “kicking-the-bag.” Plaintiff Tresa Megenity volunteered to hold the flying-kick bag. To execute a flying kick, students run to the bag and kick it with one foot while keeping the other foot on the ground. Defendant David Dunn began sprinting to Megenity’s station to execute a flying kick. However, Dunn allowed both feet to leave the ground, executing a jump kick, rather than a flying kick. Dunn’s jump kick sent Megenity crashing to the floor and injuring her. Megenity sued Dunn for her injuries.

No Breach of Duty

In 2011, the Indiana Supreme Court established that Indiana courts do not referee disputes arising from ordinary sports activity. See, Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011). This seminal decision held that when a sports participant injures someone while engaging in conduct ordinary in the sport, and without intent or recklessness, the participant does not breach a duty.[1] In Megenity, the Indiana Supreme Court went a step further and clarified that ordinary conduct in the sport turns on the sport generally, rather than the specific activity.[2]

The Court determined that Dunn’s jump kick was ordinary within the sport of karate, even if it was contrary to protocol for the kicking-the-bag drill.[3] Accordingly, the Court held that Dunn did not breach a duty by simply executing a jump kick while engaged in karate.[4] Under this standard, ordinary behavior turns on the sport generally, not the specific activity. However, the Court left the door open for injured parties who present evidence of intentional or reckless behavior.[5]

No Intentional or Reckless Behavior

In Indiana, intentional infliction of sports injury has two elements:

  1. The defendant must desire to cause the consequences of his act or believe those consequences are substantially certain to result; and
  2. The intent to injure must fall outside the range of ordinary activity in the sport.[6]

The argument for intentional behavior was not at issue because Megenity conceded Dunn did not injure her intentionally.[7] As a result, the Court shifted its focus to the three elements of sports recklessness:

  1. The defendant must intentionally act or intentionally fail to act;
  2. The defendant must be consciously indifferent to the plaintiff’s safety; and
  3. The defendant’s conduct and state of mind must fall outside the range of ordinary activity in the sport.[8]

The Court then determined that the second and third elements for sports recklessness were absent because Megenity failed to show that Dunn consciously disregarded her safety.[9] Although Dunn’s jump kick may reflect poor technique or faulty execution, it was ordinary conduct in the sport of karate generally.[10] Therefore, the Indiana Supreme Court found no breach of duty as a matter of law and affirmed summary judgment for Dunn.

[1] Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392, 404 (Ind. 2011).

[2] Megenity v. Dunn, 2017 Ind. LEXIS 109, *7-8 (Ind. Feb. 16, 2017).

[3] Id. at *9.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at *10-11.

[7] Id. at *11.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at *12.

[10] Id. at *13.

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