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Updated May 3, 2023
An Indiana Court of Appeals decision might be moving toward adding to the body of precedent around Indiana personal injury sports cases. The decision, which allows the case to move forward, hinges on whether an action in a sport is considered within the bounds of normal activity or whether it rises to the level of recklessness.
In this case, the plaintiff claims that she was injured during a karate training session when a fellow student diverged from normal behavior and performed an unexpected action, which led to her injuries.
In December 2012, the plaintiff, a black-belt-level karate student, was attending a routine training session at a karate studio, as she had done three to four times per week for the previous two years. Approximately sixty students were training during that session, practicing various skills through organized drills. The plaintiff was assisting in a “kicking the bag” drill by holding a practice bag at one of three stations through which students rotated. Her station was for front kicks, which are executed with one foot while the student balances on the other. The plaintiff had performed this holding task many times before.
One student, then a green belt, reached her station after passing through the other two. He had already been advised to “hold back” at the previous two stations after kicking excessively hard. At this station, he executed the drill incorrectly by jumping during the kick and delivering an unexpected amount of force to the bag that the plaintiff was holding. Because she was holding the bag in front of her body and face, she could not see the kick coming. The force of the blow knocked her back, and the fall caused damage to her left knee, which required surgery followed by rehabilitation and several months of missed work. She later sued the student who delivered the kick, claiming that by acting “negligently, recklessly, and unreasonably,” he had caused her injuries.
The defendant moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that his actions were reasonable under the normal conduct of a karate class. A lower court agreed, but that decision was appealed. In their split decision this spring, the appeals court decided differently. As they see the issue, whether an individual’s actions during a particular exercise or drill in a practice session can be viewed as “within the range of ordinary behavior of participants in the sport” or whether it is dangerous is for a jury to decide. That issue can’t be summarily dismissed by a judge prior to trial. The plaintiff still has to prove that the recklessness of the defendant caused her harm, but her case can continue on the facts.
Like every other sport, karate comes with a risk of injury. Responsible trainers and athletes keep themselves aware of both the risk of injury and the steps to prevent them. There isn’t much good data on the specific risk of injury to participants in martial arts, but that’s mostly because the sports aren’t as high-profile as many others and therefore receive less attention.
One Canadian study made a small-scale effort to define martial arts injuries. It’s difficult to compare that data to the measured rate of injuries in more popular sports, but among the martial arts that the study looked at, karate had the highest rate of injury—more than double that of the next injurious martial art.
If you or a loved one have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Personal Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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