The most likely lawsuit brought against a martial arts school is for negligence. Negligence is simply having a duty to do something that will help maintain the safety of those present, and failing to fulfill that duty. Depending upon the State and the ideological bent of the Court in any given area, negligence may be easier or harder to prove.
Some areas of the U.S. are pro-business and understand that certain risks are so remote and fixing them so expensive, that the law does not require those measures be taken. Other areas are so pro-employee/consumer that a business owner may be found liable if someone is hurt in his business or during operations even if every conceivable precaution was taken.
Cases have gone to trial over spilled hot coffee in someone’s lap (it was too hot, the jury decided). On someone slipping and falling on a tile floor after he walked in from the rain (no sign was posted advising people walking in from the rain that the tile would be slippery when wet). Even criminals have won lawsuits when they broke into a business and were injured. It doesn’t matter who is hurt or what they were doing, if the danger existed, the owner was responsible.
At other times, in other places, what appears to be a strong case is lost at trial or overturned on appeal. A worker intentionally defrauded a customer, then injured the customer’s agent when he tried to repossess the customer’s car that the worker was using illegally. The Court refused to award any damages for the use of the car or the injury to the customer’s agent. There are undoubtedly thousands of what might seem like cases with merit that still lose.
Many lawyers are known to openly admit that the outcome of a trial is a “crap shoot,” that it’s a roll of the dice and you never know what’s going to happen. To some extent, that’s true. If a case goes to trial, it means that both sides are committed to the fight, that both sides think they can win. When two good lawyers (or teams of lawyers) think enough of their case to fight it out in Court, the outcome is difficult to predict. However, 95% of all cases settle before trial.
Taking the issue of accidents step-by-step, the first general issue to consider is avoiding accidents. No matter the present situation with documentation or insurance, if no accidents occur, then there will be no claims. There are three key areas to consider:
1. Safety of the Training Area.
2. Safety of the Training Equipment.
3. Safety of the Training Techniques.
Safety of the Training Area
The first thing to do is evaluate the safety of your training area. Any potential dangers need to be addressed. If there is a tear in the mat that could catch someone’s foot, then it should be taped down or the mat replaced. Look at your school from the standpoint of a nit-picking safety inspector. Do not dismiss things as “good enough,” since, in a court of law, “good enough” often isn’t. Carefully explore both the actual training area and the rest of your premises.
SOME COMMON TRAINING-AREA DANGERS
– Torn Mats.
– Uneven Floor.
– Protruding Objects (nails, splinters, etc.).
– Equipment Improperly Stored (stacked so it may fall over, weapons loosely mounted on a wall, equipment in training areas, etc.).
– Sticky or Slick Areas on Hard Floor.
– Chemicals (usually in restrooms, etc.).
– Poorly Lit Areas (especially Training Areas).
Safety of the Training Equipment
The second area to carefully evaluate is the safety of your training equipment. If weapons have splinters, then they should be sanded down or replaced. If the grips on sai are coming loose, then they need to be secured. If a cord on nunchaku is frayed or there is a crack in the weapon, it must be replaced. Sharp weapons should be stored well out of the way of curious visitors or students.
The standard here is the same. Look over every piece of equipment as though you were looking for an excuse to sue your own school.
Some common dangers:
– Splintering or Cracked Weapons.
– Old Kicking Shields.
– Stressed Chains on Heavy Bags.
– Fraying Cord on Speed Bags.
– Loose Grips on Weapons.
– Worn Mats.
– Sharp Weapons.
– Nunchaku, Three-Section Staves, Eight-Section Whips, and other weapons with which the inexperienced can easily injure themselves.
If you find any potential dangers, address the problem as soon as time and money allow. Do not delay. Many problems can be partially addressed immediately, even if the problem cannot be completely resolved. If the nunchaku cord is frayed, get rid of them now. Even if you can’t replace them for a while, it is better to go without the weapon temporarily than risk serious injury or damage to the school. If the cord breaks during high-performance use, imagine the harm it can do if it struck someone.
If an accident happens today because of a problem you meant to fix tomorrow, you will feel like a fool. If you’ve never had an accident, then now is the time to take care of the problems. You do not want to wait until a student is injured before you try to make your school safe.
Safety of the Training Techniques
The third thing to look for in avoiding accidents is your actual training. Martial arts, by its very nature, bears an element of danger. Students will get minor injuries through the course of their training. The injuries might be as slight as a hyperextended joint or a strained muscle, or as serious as a concussion or fractured bone.
Combat systems are especially prone to injuries, and training could not be made entirely safe without sacrificing the effectiveness of that training. The question to ask is this: Are there any unnecessary dangers in my training policies?
Some common dangers:
– Weapons Practice in or near traffic areas (a traffic area is not just a walkway, but anywhere that other students move through, even if they are training as well).
– Students wandering near or through other students’ practice areas.
– Students holding kicking shields or heavy bags improperly (such as in front of the face, where they will hit themselves if their partner hits the shield hard.)
– Students holding kicking shields or heavy bags for others who hit too hard for them.
– Students training with sharp weapons without sufficient skill (even masters with decades of experience have nearly killed themselves practicing with combat-quality weapons).
– Sparring with excessive contact (often as a result of students sparring at a speed too fast for their level of control or a match getting out of hand).
– Sparring partners using techniques that cannot be safely performed in a sparring match (more than one full-speed shootfighting bout ended with a crippling injury because techniques were used that are difficult to control in a match).
– Rolling or falling on a hard floor while learning how to fall (recommendation: use a mat to learn, then the hard floor once some proficiency is developed).
– Wrist Locks, throws or self-defense skills practiced too hard (recommendation: practice very gently — even too gently — until you learn an individual training partner’s pain and injury thresholds).