US sportsmen take revenge on the pitch, not in court: In the world's most litigious society, players rarely sue opponents for foul play. Rupert Cornwell explains

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED STATES may be the world's most litigious society, but that does not include its sportsmen. In a country where putting up a garden fence can bring a million-dollar lawsuit from a neighbour for emotional distress, cases of players suing opponents for foul play are very rare.

In American football, one of the most violent of all contact sports, the only such episode in recent memory occurred in 1978, when New England Patriots player Darryl Stanley sued Jack Tatum, of the Oakland Raiders, and the National Football League, after Stanley's neck was broken by a foul block in a pre-season game. Stanley was paralysed for life, but the case was settled quietly out of court a year later.

Fred Speck, a Chicago attorney and sports expert, said: 'It just doesn't happen . . . Multi-year contracts guarantee a player will be paid when injured, his medical bills are taken care of, there's just not much reason to seek more money in damages.' Getting hurt is part of the risk any professional sports player takes, he added. 'It's almost a macho thing. Players get their revenge on the court, not in the court.'

Thus, in baseball, a pitcher who hits a batter (or throws a ball of the type that once killed a batter) risks not so much being sued as being charged by the opposing team. Punched and submerged under a pile of players, his pitching is unlikely to be as effective for a while.