Sam Ehrlich, an assistant professor in the Department of Management, published “Swimming Against the Current: Mayall v. USA Water Polo and Its Potential Impact on Overseeing Athletic Organizations” in the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal.
“I chose the research topic because it is something of a sequel to a paper I published in 2018 about the tendency for courts to refuse to hold overseeing athletic organizations like the NCAA and Olympic sport governing bodies responsible for injuries to athletes,” said Ehlich. “In that article, I wrote about six cases where it was argued that overseeing athletic organizations owe a legal duty of care to the athletes under their oversight but found little success.”
One of those cases (where the athlete had lost) was Mayall v. USA Water Polo. It was overturned on appeal in quite an impactful way. The Ninth Circuit found that USA Water Polo’s failure to create and enforce a return-to-play protocol in their youth tournaments could make them liable for the athlete’s injuries, especially given the longstanding consensus about the dangers of secondary concussions and (most glaringly) the fact that they had a robust return-to-play protocol for their national team.
“This was a big shift from the way that courts had previously looked at legal claims involving health-and-safety issues in sport,” he said.
As such, his article summarizes this important case and examines the potential societal impacts of this court decision on the responsibilities of overseeing athletic organizations to pass and enforce policy to protect athletes under their care. It also looks at what seems to be a shift in the way courts look at health-and-safety issues for athletes where organizations that hold themselves out to have broad responsibility to promote safety in their sport can be found liable despite not actively overseeing events or doing anything affirmative to increase the risk of harm.