Mayall v. USA Water Polo, Inc., No. 16-56389 (9th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff alleged that her minor daughter, H.C., was returned to play as a goalie in a youth water polo league tournament after being hit in the face by the ball and while manifesting concussion symptoms, received additional hits to the head, and suffered severely debilitating post-concussion syndrome. She filed a putative class action against USA Water Polo, alleging negligence, breach of voluntary undertaking, and gross negligence. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the action. With respect to the negligence claim, the court cited California’s “primary assumption of risk” doctrine, providing that an entity does not owe a duty of care where “conditions or conduct that otherwise might be viewed as dangerous . . . are an integral part of the sport itself” and concluded that secondary head injuries are not “inherent” to water polo, so Polo owed H.C. a duty of care. The court rejected an argument that it fulfilled that duty with the existence of its “Rules Governing Coaches’ Conduct,” applicable to all of its teams. Concerning the voluntary undertaking claim, the court held that Polo increased the risk of secondary concussions to players who improperly returned to pay, a risk that could be eliminated through the implementation of protocols already used by the national team. Concerning a gross negligence claim, the plaintiff adequately alleged that Polo repeatedly ignored the known risk of secondary injuries, and repeatedly ignored requests to implement concussion-management and return-to-play protocols.