Lack of Basketball Buffer Zones May Cause Serious Injuries to Young Athletes

by Jim Orr

More than 4 million children participate in competitive basketball leagues in the U.S. each year. As the popularity of the sport has grown, so too has the number of serious injuries occurring during games or in practice. According to data collected by the Children’s Hospital at Stanford, more than 200,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 end up in emergency rooms for basketball-related injures each year.

A significant cause of serious basketball injuries is the lack of an adequate buffer zone around the court. Buffer zones – also known as safety zones – are spaces between the playing area and nearby obstructions, such as walls, benches, or athletic equipment. Buffer zones are designed to prevent the serious or catastrophic injuries that can occur when players collide with walls or other obstructions that are close to the court.  In instances when basketball facilities are built without an adequate buffer zone, padded walls can be used to try to reduce the force of impact that may occur when a player comes into contact with walls or other objects located near the court, but serious injuries often occur even with this padding.

Collisions caused by the lack of an adequate buffer zone or protective padding are among the most common causes of serious or catastrophic basketball-related injuries. A 2006 study found that the lack of an adequate buffer zone was reported as the primary cause of injury in two-thirds of personal injury lawsuits involving basketball injuries. When accidents occur due to the lack of adequate buffer zones or padding around the basketball court, serious, catastrophic, or even fatal injuries can result.

As to the appropriate distance for buffer zones, several organizations have published recommendations about the area of free space around the court necessary to keep players safe. The National Federation of State High School Associations Basketball Rules Book requires “at least 3 feet (and preferably 10 feet) of unobstructed space outside boundaries” of a basketball court in order to reduce the risk of serious injury to players. Another organization, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), recommends at least 10 feet of unobstructed space beyond the end lines of the court with at least 6 feet of full wall padding, as well as at least 6 feet of unobstructed space along the sidelines.

For basketball courts that were built without adequate buffer zones, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) advises schools and other sports organizations to install padded safety walls around the court. Gym walls should be padded from no more than four inches off the floor to six feet high across the entire width of the court. Ideally, gyms should be padded wall-to-wall in order to prevent injuries when the facility is used for activities other than basketball, such as during P.E. classes.

Safety experts also recommend that the buffer zones around the court should be kept free of benches, tables, chairs, spectators, and other obstructions that could cause serious injuries to players.

Despite these recommendations, many high school gymnasiums and other basketball facilities are built without adequate buffer zones, putting players at risk of serious and potentially fatal injuries due to the presence of obstructions near the court. Many architects who design these facilities do not understand or take into account the importance of designing basketball facilities with adequate buffer zones or padding around the playing area. As athletes become bigger, stronger, and faster, the lack of adequate buffer zones around the basketball court can pose a risk of serious injuries to young players.

Lawsuits Filed Over Catastrophic Basketball Accidents

Several lawsuits have been filed against athletic facilities, governmental entities and officials, architects and other service providers in cases where the lack of an adequate buffer zone around the basketball court resulted in serious or fatal injuries to young athletes.

In 2001, a 14-year-old girls basketball player in Missouri suffered a traumatic brain injury when she fell backward, striking her head against an unpadded metal wall less than 4 feet from the court’s end line. The girl’s family later agreed to a significant settlement after filing a personal injury lawsuit against the coaches, athletic director, and school district.

Also in 2001, a 16-year-old female player in Florida suffered a concussion, broken clavicle, and seizures after she was propelled into a concrete wall less than six feet from the end line of the court. Although the wall was partially padded, the girl’s body struck the concrete in an unpadded area. Her family later agreed to a significant settlement after filing a lawsuit against the school.

In 1997, an Ohio eight-grade boys player tripped and flew head-first into a concrete wall located less than five feet from the end line during a cross-court basketball game. The boy remained unresponsive for several days after the accident, and passed away four months later after being taken off of life support. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school board alleging that a safety mat alongside the court was worn and inadequately padded to prevent injuries in the event of a collision. The failure of coaches to properly supervise the game and the school board’s failure to hire coaches trained in CPR (as required by Ohio law) were also cited as factors in the boy’s death.

Child Injured in an Accident? Our Lawyers Can Help.

If your child suffered serious or catastrophic injuries as a result of a basketball accident caused by the lack of a safety zone around the court, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit against the parties responsible for the dangerous condition of the court.  The first step in taking legal action is to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you of your legal rights and guide you through the first steps of filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have successfully resolved hundreds of lawsuits involving personal injury, product liability, or other legal matters. Our law firm has the financial resources to handle personal injury claims from start to finish. In many instances, Heygood, Orr & Pearson has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a case on our clients’ behalf in order to take it to trial. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we are committed to achieving justice for our clients, whatever the cost.

For more information about filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few brief questions to get started.

by Jim Orr

Jim Orr is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P focusing on business and personal injury litigation. Jim was selected multiple times to the Super Lawyers List and has tried 70+ cases to verdict.