Medical Malpractice in Athletics
It seems obvious that the well-developed, negligence-based principles of medical malpractice apply to sports medicine. As a general rule, the reasonableness of the medical care provided is measured against the minimum common skill of members in good standing of the profession. The "locality rule," which required a doctor to act only up to the standard of the locale in which he or she practiced, is largely a dead letter. The modern trend is to consider the locality of the practice as simply one factor to take into account in assessing the doctor's conduct. Additionally, doctors holding themselves out as specialists are held to a national standard. The issue of "informed consent" looms large. Although "informed consent" is technically an intentional tort defense, modern courts have translated the "informed consent" concept into negligence terminology. Cases thus turn on whether reasonable doctors would have disclosed certain risks. Much of the material that follows illustrates how these basic principles of medical malpractice apply in sports.
Also note, however, that a number of problems are peculiar to sports medicine. One perplexing problem arises out of the somewhat unusual relationships created by the common practice of employing a team doctor. The very term "team doctor" signals the problem. The team doctor owes sometimes conflicting duties to individual team members and the team. The problem manifests itself in situations in which a valuable player is injured before an important game, and the responsibility falls on the team physician to decide if the player can participate. This power to determine eligibility generates a host of other problems. How, for example, is liability to be determined when a doctor permits an injured player to participate and the injury is further aggravated or, worse yet,