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Jets Coach Trips Player: Could He Get Sued?

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By Jason Beahm on December 14, 2010 5:57 AM

Did you know that in 1978, Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes tackled a Clemson linebacker after he made a crucial interception in what would become an Ohio State loss? Hayes was later fired by the university. So it comes as little surprise that the Jets came down hard on Sal Alosi, after the coach intentionally tripped Miami Dolphins player Nolan Carroll during the Jets vs. Dolphins game.

Alosi has been fined $25,000 and suspended without pay for the remainder of the season for his actions, effective immediately, including playoff games, ESPN reports. Alosi will have no access to the Jets' facilities and may not interact with the coaches or players. The league will not be enforcing any additional penalties.

This incident serves as a good example of an exception to the legal principle assumption of risk. With regard to a sport like the NFL, under assumption of risk, a player cannot sue for injuries caused by a risk which is inherent in the activity. Specifically, if you are playing football and you are legally tackled within the rules of the game and break your neck, you cannot sue. You are said to have assumed the risk of such an injury.

However, if you are injured through an act that falls outside the game, primary assumption of risk does not apply. For example: intentionally injuring a player, engaging in conduct that is so reckless as to be totally outside the range of football, or taking an action that increases the risk to the plaintiff beyond the inherent risk playing football.

In other words, being tripped by a coach on the sidelines is not a risk that you assume when you choose to play football in the NFL. That means that Sal Alosi is not likely to be protected by the principle of assumption of the risk. Had the situation been more dire, such as if Alosi had ended Carroll's career or cost him an entire season due to injury, he could have been on the hook for serious damages.

Under personal injury (tort) law, a person is responsible for the result of a situation that they set in motion as long as there are not any superseding causes and that result is foreseeable. Put another way, it doesn't matter if the Jets' coach meant to injure player, only that he intended to trip him.

Fortunately, it appears that Nolan Carroll was not seriously injured.

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