In March of 2014 Dennis Munson Jr. died in his debut, unregulated, amateur kickboxing bout in Wisconsin. At the time the State did not regulate the sport.
Munson’s family has, as first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a host of parties involved in organizing and overseeing the bout including the promoter, the referee and ringside physician. The article is worth reading in full for background.
The biggest legal key in this lawsuit will surround the fact that the bout was unregulated. When a lawsuit follows a regulated bout the Court can, in part, look at the Rules and Regulations in place to decide who fulfilled their duties and who did not. More importantly the Courts can look to legislation to see who enjoys what standard of immunity from litigation. Here, the courts will not have this luxury and must rely largely on the common law.
For the leading case dealing with a ‘duty of care’ for unregulated bouts one can look oversees to Watson v. British Boxing Board of Control.
In that case the courts noted that while the BBBC controlled boxing in the country, this was done by general agreement rather than by legislative authority and had to look to the common law to decide if event organizers and officials could be held accountable for a tragedy in the ring.
The BBBC argued they should be immune from scrutiny of fault but the Courts disagreed noting that by choosing to oversee the bout they created a relationship of proximity such that they owed a legal duty of care to the participants and had to meet a reasonable standard of care in overseeing the bout.
The England and Wales Court of Appeal noted as follows in determining a self appointed regulatory body could bear legal liability:
1. Mr Watson was one of a defined number of boxing members of the Board
2. A primary stated object of the Board was to look after its boxing member’s physical safety.
3. The Board encouraged and supported its boxing members in the pursuit of an activity which involved inevitable physical injury and the need for medical precautions against the consequences of such injury.
4. The Board controlled every aspect of that activity.
5. In particular, the Board controlled the medical assistance that would be provided.
6. The Board had, or had access to, specialist expertise in relation to appropriate standards of medical care.
7. The Board’s assumption of responsibility in relation to medical care probably relieved the promoter of such responsibility. If Mr Watson has no remedy against the Board, he has no remedy at all.
8. Boxing members of the Board, including Mr Watson, could reasonably rely upon the Board to look after their safety.
88. All these matters lead me to conclude that the Judge was right to find that the Board
was under a duty of care to Mr Watson.
While this case is not binding in any way in Wisconsin, the court will need to go through a similar analysis using the common law and likely will agree that many of the named defendants owed Munson. a legal duty of care. From there liability can follow to anyone who failed to meet their standard of care if a link can be made from that breach and the injuries suffered by Munson.