Earlier this week I discussed the potential consequences Jon Jones may face following a reported positive doping test. One consequence which garnered the most attention was a potential lawsuit by his opponent. This topic deserves a stand alone post.
To my knowledge no fighter has yet been successfully sued for being injured as a result of competing against a doping competitor. On the other hand, no court has said it is not legally possible for such a claim to succeed. Mark Hunt is currently suing Brock Lesnar for doping but that claim has its own complications as it alleges a widespread and difficult to prove conspiracy. It likely will not give a definitive answer to this topic.
In my opinion a doping lawsuit can succeed based on the simple legal principles of fraud and battery. Here’s why.
First we need a fact pattern. I am not suggesting this applies to Jon Jones. This is hypothetical.
- A fighter is intentionally doping.
- He wins via knockout (ie brain injury).
- The opponent, who is clean, suffers long term harm, forced into early retirement and sues for future lost earnings.
- The opponent did not consent to fight a doping competitor (this fact is key to success).
Here’s how it works.
A fight is consensual and comes with risk. All things being equal a fighter cannot sue for harm from activity that they knowingly consent to. Here is the legal focus.
Doping is fraud. It is pre-meditated cheating. It differs from in cage fouls which can be expected and arise in the heat of competition. Doping is orchestrated and intentional. It is also hidden. Dopers don’t tell their opponents they are cheating.
But fighters know doping is rampant and they should assume this risk? Probably not.
Many Athletic Commissions require fighters to declare, under penalty of perjury, that they are not taking any performance enhancing drugs. A fighter is entitled to rely on this representation from their opponent. Legally this goes a long way.
If the injured fighter says, and is believed, that they did not consent to fight a doping opponent then fraud arguably vitiates consent.
From here, without consent, the entire fight can be viewed as assault/battery. This is also important when it comes to proving damages.
If this occurs the injured fighter would not have to prove that the injuries came from the performance enhancing drugs, they simply argue that, but for the fraud, they did not consent to be in the cage in the first place.
There are cases establishing the following –
- Doping in sports is fraud
- Fraud can vitiate consent to otherwise consensual physical activity
- Pre-meditated cheating can vitiate consent in combat sports making the bout both a criminal and civil assault/battery
- Bouts that fall apart due to doping can lead to civil damages
Will these principles apply to a successful doping lawsuit? In time the right facts will present themselves and the combat sports community will have an answer.