Player Cries Foul in Youth Soccer Match: An Update on the Reckless-Misconduct Standard as Applied to Recreational Activities

Player Cries Foul in Youth Soccer Match: An Update on the Reckless-Misconduct Standard as Applied to Recreational Activities


In Campau v Renaud, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued August 6, 2020 (Docket No. 347622), the Court of Appeals analyzed the reckless-misconduct standard in a case arising out of a youth soccer game. The Court’s analysis centered on Ritchie-Gamester v Berkley, 461 Mich 73; 597 NW2d 517 (1999), and it affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition in favor of the defendant co-participant.

Background on Campau

12-year-old Nathan Campau was playing goalie when he collided “knee to knee” with 13-year-old TJ Renaud. TJ was playing forward for the opposing team and went for the ball at the same time as Nathan. Nathan sustained injuries as a result of the collision.

Nathan (by his father as next friend) filed suit against TJ and his parents, alleging negligence. The defendants filed a motion for summary disposition, which the trial court granted. Nathan appealed, arguing that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether TJ’s conduct rose to the level of reckless misconduct.

The Court of Appeals’ Ruling

First, the Court articulated the standard of care applicable to sports and other recreational activities, known as the reckless-misconduct standard. This rule was adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court in Ritchie-Gamester and applies to co-participants in a recreational activity. Specifically, those who engage in a recreational activity are deemed to have “voluntarily subjected themselves to certain risks inherent in that activity.” Ritchie-Gamester, 461 Mich at 87. To be actionable, the defendant’s conduct must “demonstrate a willingness or indifference to the injury of the coparticipant.” Campau, unpub op at 3.

Applying this standard, the Court held that the collision was an inherent and foreseeable risk of playing soccer, and Nathan consented to that risk. Nathan’s coach testified that collisions like the one in this case are common in soccer, and he had witnessed similar collisions in other games. The referee who officiated the game offered similar testimony, explaining that he didn’t “card” [1] TJ because he determined that the incident was simply an “unfortunate collision.”

The Court of Appeals also concluded that the testimony provided by Nathan’s father did not create a genuine issue of material fact regarding TJ’s recklessness. Nathan’s father testified that, based on his experience playing soccer, TJ’s conduct was reckless and amounted to a potential rule violation, and that TJ should have been more cautious. The Court held that the father’s subjective assessment was irrelevant under Ritchie-Gamester’s objective standard.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals held that TJ’s conduct, at most, amounted to a rule violation, which falls short of the reckless-misconduct standard without evidence of willingness or indifference to injury. Accordingly, the Court affirmed summary disposition in favor of TJ.

Judge Shapiro dissented. In his view, a reasonable jury could conclude from Nathan’s evidence that TJ exhibited a complete indifference toward the risk of injury. Additionally, he believed that the parties’ conflicting versions of the event implicated issues of credibility for a jury to decide.

The Takeaway: Be Mindful of the Risks

Though Campau is an unpublished decision, it highlights the different standard that applies to recreational activities and serves as a cautionary tale about the risks one assumes (perhaps unknowingly) when playing sports.

If you have questions about Campau v Renaud, please feel free to contact the author, Kari L. Melkonian. More information about Collins Einhorn’s General and Automotive Liability Practice Group is available here.

[1] Players in soccer matches may receive a “red card” or “yellow card” for various penalties, with “red cards” being reserved for more serious offenses.

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