Heptathlete Files Lawsuit Against USA Track & Field after Collapsing at Event

Jan 27, 2023

Elite women’s heptathlon competitor Taliyah Brooks has filed a lawsuit against USA Track & Field (USATF), the national governing body for the sport of track and field in the United States, after an incident on June 27, 2021, at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials when she collapsed and suffered heat-related injuries.

Taliyah Brooks alleged that the USATF was liable because it held the heptathlon competition during the hottest part of the day on the hottest day in recorded history in Eugene, Oregon. On track temperatures that day reportedly near 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the plaintiff alleged.

In advance of the seven-event heptathlon competition, athletes on the USATF Athletes’ Advisory Council petitioned USATF to move the time of the heptathlon trials to protect the safety of the athletes, but USATF denied the request, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff further alleged that not only did USATF refuse to move the competition to a time of day more protective of athlete safety, but USATF had inadequate equipment in place to protect the athletes and provide for their care, even failing to have an ambulance at the venue available to promptly transport her to the hospital.

Brooks had been in second place at the end of the first day of the heptathlon, but her collapse, heat injuries, and resulting hospitalization left her unable to complete the competition and deprived her of the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympic Games in Japan, according to the complaint, which was filed in the Marion County Superior Court in Indiana.

After the Olympic Trials, Brooks sought assistance from USATF in getting her medical records and other records about the event. But she was allegedly confronted with an indemnification provision that USATF claims she was subject to as a condition of participating in the Olympic Trials. Not only would the provision, as interpreted by USATF, prevent Brooks from recovering for injuries “caused by USATF’s own negligence but it would purportedly require her to pay USATF’s attorneys fees if she even tried to hold USATF accountable.”

Brooks is being represented by veteran sports lawyer Bill Bock, of Kroger, Gardis & Regas, LLP. Bock is seeking to have the exculpatory provision that is being relied upon by USATF declared “unconscionable and unenforceable.”

“This is an important case for the protection of the health and well-being of athletes,” said Bock. “There is no duty more important for a sport national governing body than protecting the safety of its athletes. But, if a national governing body like USATF can avoid accountability for its negligence as a condition of entry into the U.S. Olympic Trials then any promise by USATF that it will protect its athletes is empty and unenforceable. USATF’s effort to shed its duty to protect the health and safety of its own athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials is unconscionable. We are asking the court to find that USATF can be required by its athletes to hold reasonably safe Olympic Trials and National Championships, and that USATF can be sued by its member athletes for negligence if USATF fails to conduct these events safely.”

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

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