You might be in tip-top physical shape before running a marathon, but that doesn’t prevent all types of injuries—especially if they are due to negligence of another party.
You’ve trained. And trained. And trained some more. And now you’re ready to participate in your first marathon. A “marathon,” by definition, is a 26-mile foot race. It’s usually on paved roads but could also be on trails or unpaved areas. This differs from a triathlon, which is swimming, running and cycling over various distances. However, if you were to be injured while participating in one of these events, the legal liability questions would be similar.
However well-prepared and trained you are, there are some risks inherent in any extreme physical activity. You likely have a certain level of trust in the organizing body and assume a safe course, trained volunteers and staff, and adequate medical support and crowd control. Marathons can be physically grueling events that test the limits of human endurance, so the stakes for ensuring safety are high.
What, exactly, are the responsibilities of the marathon organizing body when it comes to participant safety? Who is liable if you become injured?
Marathon organizers are responsible for runners’ safety
This includes everything from adequate hydration stations to emergency medical services. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect of the event organizer.
Adequate medical support
- First Aid stations should be strategically located throughout the course and equipped with basic first-aid supplies like bandages, ice packs, etc.
- Trained medical personnel should be available to provide immediate medical attention in case of injuries or medical emergencies.
- Ambulance services should be ready for quick transportation to a hospital.
Hydration and nutrition
- Hydration stations should be available at regular intervals. Certainly, a marathon organization can’t be responsible for a person’s individual choice to skip hydration, but it should make sure that water is available.
- Nutrition can include energy gels or foods like bananas so that runners can maintain their stamina and energy throughout the race.
- Route inspection. Before the event, the entire course should be inspected for potential hazards like potholes, slippery surfaces, or sharp turns that could pose a risk.
- Signs and barriers. Proper signage should be placed to guide runners along the course. Barriers might also be necessary to separate runners from vehicle traffic or other potential dangers.
- Weather hazards. If the weather conditions are unsafe—extreme heat, lightning storms, etc.—organizers should have a plan ranging from delaying the event to outright cancellation.
- Crowd control. Adequate security should be in place to manage crowds and ensure that unauthorized individuals do not enter the course and pose a risk to runners.
- Emergency evacuation plans. In the case of a severe emergency like a natural disaster or terror threat, there should be an evacuation plan in place.
- Pre-race briefing. Important safety information should be shared with runners before the race. This often includes details about the course, what to do in an emergency, and where to find medical aid.
- Waivers and disclaimers. While waivers protect organizers to some extent, they must be clear about the risks involved in participating in the event.
Monitoring and oversight
Throughout the event, the organizing body should continuously monitor the situation for potential risks, whether a sudden change in weather conditions or an unexpected obstacle on the course.
There should be effective communication between all parties involved in organizing the event, so everyone knows what’s happening. This includes all individuals and vendors, from volunteers running hydration stations to medical personnel.
Following these guidelines would help marathon organizers to make the event safer for everyone and also reduce their own legal liability in case something does go wrong. Failure to meet these responsibilities can open them to legal action, especially if their negligence directly leads to participant injuries.
Liability when you're injured as a marathon runner
Running a marathon is an extraordinary feat that demands months, or even years, of preparation. But what happens when you've trained for months only to get injured on the big day? More importantly, who's liable for your injuries? Could it be the marathon organizers, the property owner, or perhaps the maintenance agency responsible for the course?
Here’s where you might find liability for a marathon-related injury:
Property owner or maintenance entity
A marathon is likely mostly on public streets or trails. However, “private” property doesn’t mean you’re necessarily running through someone’s backyard; it could be parking lots owned by shopping mall management or other commercial areas.
If you get injured from a property hazard, it would be a premises liability lawsuit. For instance, if you tripped and fell because of a crack in a sidewalk or over a protruding tree root, you might have a claim against the property owner, whether it’s a commercial real estate entity or the government agency that maintains the area. However, you might have a claim against both the property manager and the marathon organizers. If the marathon organizers knew that there were areas of uneven terrain or hazards, then they should have either warned the runners, taken measures to repair them ahead of time, or moved the location of the course to avoid the hazards.
There’s a possibility that other participants could behave negligently in a way that causes someone else to be injured. The marathon can’t control people’s behavior and would not be responsible for an injury that was not foreseeable. If you’re injured because of another participant, you would make a claim directly against that person.
That would also likely be the case if you’re injured by a spectator. As long as the marathon organization takes proper precautions and safety measures, it would likely not be liable for injury by a spectator. For example, if someone throws an object onto the course and you’re hit, or something of that nature.
But the organizer could be liable if it does not have adequate security to take precautions like checking backpacks and using other types of surveillance to protect against tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
Common types of marathon injuries and financial compensation
Running a marathon is a strenuous activity, and there are numerous risks. Most of these injuries aren’t anyone’s fault—they are inherent in this type of activity. Some of the most common injuries include:
- Sprains and strains
- Heat exhaustion
- Cuts and abrasions
Depending on the severity of the injury, you could be entitled to compensation for:
If you’ve been injured during a marathon, you can take these steps:
- Obtain medical treatment. The first and most crucial step is to seek medical help. Not only is this vital for your health, but medical records also serve as essential evidence.
- Gather evidence. Photos, videos, witness accounts—save anything that could serve as evidence. Make sure also to obtain any available surveillance footage if possible.
- Notify the affected parties. Inform the organizing body, property owner, or maintenance agency of your injury and your intention to seek compensation.
- Consult a personal injury lawyer. This is often the most crucial step, as a lawyer can guide you through the complexities of filing a lawsuit.
- File a lawsuit. Once you've consulted with your lawyer and gathered all the necessary information, the next step is filing the lawsuit.
When (and why) to hire a personal injury lawyer
This isn't a decision to take lightly. The intricacies involved in determining liability make hiring a professional lawyer almost a necessity.
Consider hiring a lawyer:
- As soon as possible after the injury. This allows the attorney ample time to gather evidence and build a robust case.
- When multiple parties could be involved. The complexities increase with the number of potential defendants, making legal guidance crucial.
- When the injuries are severe. In such cases, the stakes are high and a professional can help you get the compensation you deserve.
- If the defendant disputes liability. An attorney can help prove fault through evidence, expert testimony, and meticulous legal work.
Running a marathon is an exhilarating experience, but the thrill shouldn't come at the cost of your well-being. If you find yourself injured due to someone else's negligence, knowing your rights and the intricacies of the law can make a significant difference. And while the legal route may seem daunting, a qualified personal injury lawyer can guide you through it, ensuring that you receive the compensation you rightly deserve.
Remember, you're not just running a race; you're also running against time to secure justice. Don't delay — consult a legal expert to help you navigate the challenging course of a personal injury lawsuit.