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Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Is Potato Sack Racing a "Contact Sport"?

As long-time readers of this blog know, one of my enduring sports law interests in the tort liability of participants in athletic events to one another (see posts on the subject here, here, and here). In many states, a "contact sports exception" applies to personal injury cases between co-participants in sports deemed to "inherently" involve contact. Co-participants can only recover from one another where the offender committed a "reckless" act, since the risk of negligence is viewed as an assumed risk of contact sports.

A key question that arises in cases implicating this legal rule is the line between contact and non-contact sports.

Now, an Ohio appellate court has sent a case back down involving an injury to a participant in a potato-sack race, ruling that such racing is not a contact sports. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer story on the case:
"Intentional tackling is not a customary part of the sport or activity of sack racing," said the appellate decision. "Sack racing is not a contact sport."

A new trial will decide if Martin LaMalfa, 43, of Concord Township, was negligent when he tackled cousin Anthony Aquila, 53, of Wickiffe, during the sack race Aug. 17, 2003, at a LaMalfa family reunion at the Outdoor YMCA in Perry Township.

"It is clear from the record that roughhousing between two grown men was done in a spirit of childlike competition between cousins which unfortunately due to their respective ages and physical limitations may negligently have caused some serious damage," the appellate court said in its opinion.
Having participated in just a few such races over the years, I'm not qualified to render an opinion on the level of contact typically expected in this activity. At least according to e-how, however, contact isn't a part of the rules of potato-sack racing.


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