Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc. – (consent)
United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit
Trial court had ruled as a matter of law that the game of professional football is basically a business which is violent in nature, and that the available sanctions are imposition of penalties and expulsion from the game. This was the ruling even though the court found that the blow was administered out of anger and intentionally and in violation of the rules of the game of professional football.
An injury was administered during the course of a professional football game between the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals in Denver in 1973. The Bronco’s Defensive Back Dale Hackbart was the recipient of the injury and the Bengal’s Offensive back Charles Clark inflicted the blow which produced the injury.
The trial court found that Charles Clark acted out of anger and frustration, but without a specific intent to injure. Clark stepped forward and struck a blow with his right forearm to the back of the kneeling plaintiff’s head and neck with sufficient force to cause both players to fall forward to the ground.
Does a player’s consent to play the game of professional football negate the possibility of personal liability for actions taken during the game by an individual player?
Initially the trial court had said that since the game of professional football was one of such violence and aggression the only recourse that a player has are the available sanctions of the imposition of penalties and expulsion from the game. It was unclear from the reading whether the trial court had initially ruled in favor of the defendant, or had simply thrown the case out of court.
The court of appeals held that this is not so and that the trial court was in error in holding that as a matter of social policy the game was so violent and unlawful that valid lines could not be drawn. The court of appeals held that this was not a proper issue for determination and that the plaintiff was entitled to have the case tried on an assessment of his rights and whether they had been violated by the blow delivered by the defendant.
The reasoning behind this is stated succinctly by the court in the penultimate paragraph of the case when it said “therefore, the notion is not correct that all reason has been abandoned, whereby the only possible remedy for the person who has been the victim of an unlawful blow is retaliation.”
The decision was that the case be reversed and remanded for a new trial.