How to Avoid Making a Racket over Racquets

July 14, 2011

Using Equipment Only for their Intended Use

Katharine M. Nohr, Esq.
Nohr Sports Risk Management, LLC

I’ll bet that on occasion employees of your organization have had to warn a child or adult not to use sports equipment for things other than their intended use. Perhaps you’ve seen someone using a baseball bat to dislodge a basketball from a net; a weight bench to stand on in order to reach something; small weights to prop a door open; or a tennis racquet to kill a bug. Most of the time, using equipment for something other than what it was designed for does not cause any harm. However, a recent court case provides a good reason that sports and recreation equipment should only be used for what they were designed for.

In a case decided in New York in October of 2009, the Plaintiff sued Franklin Sports, Inc., claiming that their son was injured by a defective badminton racquet that it had manufactured. See Schessl v. Franklin Sporting Industries, WL 3644404 (W.D.N.Y. 2009). The Plaintiff claimed that her son and other children were playing with the badminton racquet at a party and the racquet’s head dislodged, causing him to suffer severe and permanent injury. Defendant Franklin filed a third party action against others, claiming that they were partially or wholly liable for the Plaintiff’s injuries. One of the third party defendants, Jeff Banky, filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to conclude that he was not liable. If a motion for summary judgment is granted the court will “throw out” the case. If such motion is denied, then the case proceeds to a jury trial.

The facts were as follows. About 40 to 50 people attended a party, including about 17 to 24 children. A number of children were playing badminton, using racquets that were manufactured by Franklin. Several of the children began playing baseball with one of the badminton racquets, using it as a bat and hitting a tennis ball. At one point, the head of the racquet flew off the handle, and landed on the roof of the home. It then slid to the ground and landed on the front porch. It was alleged (but denied) that Jeff Banky handed the racquet head back to the children, telling them to “try to be more careful”. One of the children attempted to reattach the racquet head, but upon swinging it, the racquet head flew off, striking Plaintiff on the head, causing injury.
The court determined that there were questions of fact as to Banky’s actions and so his motion for summary judgment was denied. The case would proceed to jury trial. The published court decision only addressed the motion filed by Banky. The remaining portion of the case likely was settled or proceeded to trial.
Obviously, using a badminton racquet to play baseball and hit a tennis ball is not a good idea. Many of you reading this will think that is obvious. Can you think of examples in your own organization in which sports equipment is not used for what it was intended to be used for? Consider the following tips:

  1. Instruct your staff and volunteers that sports equipment should only be used for its intended use and ask them to consistently enforce this principle.
  2. Erect signage or add to existing signage that sports equipment should only be used for its intended use.
  3. Include the above principle in written rules and rules that are posted on your organization’s website.

Consistently enforcing this rule could result in fewer injuries and could possibly protect you and your organization should a lawsuit arise from a similar factual scenario.

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