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Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, has ruled that a young boy, whose leg was broken when a soccer goal post flipped over, cannot sue nonprofit youth soccer associations for negligence. The incident occurred in 1998, when twelve-year-old Dustin Welch was hurt when a goal tipped over and struck his right leg. At the time, the boy was not playing, but was a participant in a soccer program run by the Sudbury Youth Soccer Association, as well as the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association.

In 2006, Welch sued the two associations claiming he was seriously injured due to the soccer goals being improperly secured. The associations, however, argued that they could not be sued under the state law that grants immunity to nonprofits conducting sports programs. The high court agreed with the associations’ argument and upheld a Superior Court judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

Having 2 girls, ages 10 and 13, who have played soccer for 4 and 8 years, respectively, I was stunned to learn nearly 2 years ago that falling or tipping (usually portable) soccer goals were, in fact, a very real and dangerous hazard. I first learned about this potentially dangerous condition when contacted to be co-counsel for a family who lost their 10 year old son to a falling soccer goal in Virginia. It is a tragedy beyond description. It is even more tragic because it should NEVER happen. First, soccer goals can be designed to avoid tipping over, even if not anchored, by eliminating the top-heavy nature of the portable goal. Second, soccer goals always need to be securely anchored.

Since 1979, there have been a reported 35 deaths and 53 injuries from falling soccer goals – more than 1 death per year. This is astounding – and it should not happen.

With regard to the above-referenced Massachusetts court decision, I find it regrettable that the youth soccer assocations were granted immunity in that state. The soccer associations and organizations have terrific platforms from which to educate, train, and warn their members, coaches, and referees. There is no excuse for this training not to occur. This hazard is the single most dangerous, in fact lethal, aspect of competitive youth soccer.

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