Paintball is a popular game played by millions of people throughout the world. It is also a controversial sport due to what critics believe is an unreasonable risk that players could suffer serious injuries, including blinding and death. If you or a family member has been injured playing paintball, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit and receive compensation for your injuries and other damages. Read on to learn more about the sport of paintball, safety concerns surrounding the game and paintball equipment, and the legal claims that may be available in a lawsuit over injuries caused by paintball.
To learn about legal claims arising from other common injuries resulting from sports, vehicle accidents, or other activities, see Nolo's Accidents & Injuries section.
Paintball is a popular and controversial game that attracts an estimated eight to ten million players each year in the United States alone. Players simulate combat using paintball guns (called paintball markers) to shoot opponents with paint-filled pellets. Paintball guns use compressed carbon dioxide to propel the small paint-filled pellets, which explode on contact with an object or target. When shot from a paintball gun, paintball pellets can travel 250 to 300 feet per second, or up to 200 miles per hour.
Every year an estimated 20 to 45 injuries occur for every 100,000 people who participate in paintball games. Many of these injuries are suffered by minors. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), paintball injuries to children under the age of 15 doubled between 1998 and 2000. Minor injuries include cuts, welts, and bruising. Players can also sprain or twist their ankles running on paintball playing fields or suffer shortness of breath when shot in the throat. More serious injuries include eye injuries, ear injuries, and even death.
Eye injuries from paintball. The most common paintball injuries are eye injuries. An estimated 85% of all paintball injuries are eye-related. The number of paintball eye injuries is also on the rise -- paintball eye injuries treated in emergency rooms rose from an estimated 545 in 1998 to over 1,200 in 2000. Over 40% of these cases occurred in children, mostly boys. Types of paintball eye injuries include hyphemas and vitreous hemorrhages (bleeding in the eye), retinal detachments, cataracts, corneal abrasions, and commotio retina (bruising and swelling of the retina). Many of these injuries can lead to permanent visual impairment, even vision loss.
Ear injuries caused by paintball. Aside from eye injuries, the most common paintball injuries are ear injuries. A paintball shot at someone's ear at close range can lead to a concussion, a ruptured ear drum, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), cauliflower ear (permanent damage to ear cartilage leading to disfigurement of the outer ear), and even partial or permanent loss of hearing.
Deaths caused by paintball. In 2004, the CPSC issued a safety warning about paintball guns following two deaths associated with carbon dioxide canisters detaching from paintball guns. In 2003, a 15-year-old boy died after he was hit in the head by the carbon dioxide cylinder he removed from his gun while it was still under pressure. In 2004, a 37-year-old female bystander died after being hit in the back of the head by a carbon dioxide cylinder that was accidentally unscrewed from a gun by a player. The husband of the woman who died sued the makers of the paintball gun, arguing the gun was defective. The case was settled for $8 million.
Paintball injuries caused by negligence. The most common legal claim in any personal injury lawsuit is negligence. In a negligence claim, the plaintiff (the person suing) argues that his or her injuries were caused by the unreasonable carelessness of the defendant (the person being sued). If you are able to prove that your paintball injury was caused by another person's negligence (for example, the carelessness of another player or the failure of the paintball facility to provide you with protective gear), you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. To learn more about what you must prove in a negligence lawsuit, see Nolo's article Proving Fault in Personal Injury Accidents: General Rules.
Paintball injuries caused by defective products. If your paintball injury was caused by a defective or dangerous product (a defective paintball gun or mask, for example) you may be able to bring a product liability claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the defective product. For more information on product liability cases, see Nolo's Product Liability FAQ.
Paintball injuries due to assault or battery. If your paintball injury was the result of another player's intentional act rather than an accident, you may be able to sue under a theory of assault or battery. For more information on the intentional torts (wrongs) of assault and battery see Nolo's article Assault and Battery as Personal Injury Claims.
Assumption of risk. Because participating in a sport like paintball carries some degree of risk, the defendant may raise the "assumption of risk" defense. With this defense, the defendant argues that you are not entitled to compensation because you chose to take part in an activity that presented a known risk or harm. To learn more about common defenses in negligence cases, read Nolo's article Defenses in Personal Injury Cases.
Consent. Consent is a common defense in intentional tort (i.e. assault and battery) lawsuits involving contact sports like paintball. A defendant arguing consent will need to prove that the injured party agreed to the possibility of being hurt. If successful, the defendant would not be held legally responsible for injuries caused by the activity (i.e. paintball). To learn more about consent and other defenses raised in personal injury claims based on assault and battery, read Nolo's article Assault and Battery as Personal Injury Claims.
The general purpose of a monetary award (called "damages") in personal injury cases is to compensate an injured person for the losses caused by their injury. The damages you may recover in any lawsuit over paintball injuries would depend on the type of injury suffered, but would typically include reimbursement for medical expenses and compensation for pain and suffering. To learn more about compensation in personal injury cases, see Nolo's article Damages: How Much is a Personal Injury Case Worth?
The legal issues raised by paintball injury cases can be tricky, so it's a good idea to consult an experienced attorney if you are considering legal action. For help in choosing a good personal injury attorney, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Or go to Nolo's trusted Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's expertise, if any, with paintball injury cases).