Hackbart v. Cincinatti Bengals


  • Plaintiff was a professional football player and during a game was hit in the back of the head by the defendant after being blocked by plaintiff.
  • Defendant admitted hitting the plaintiff in the head was intentional
  • Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging negligence and reckless misconduct
  • Trial court ruled in favor of the defendant stating that football was beyond the realm of imposition of the law for tortious conduct and that the plaintiff assumed the risk inherent in the game.
  • Plaintiff appealed claiming the trial court erred in failing to apply tort principals to the action and evidence of plaintiff’s prior game conduct was improperly admitted at trial.


  • Because the jurisdiction to hear or determine case exists in this case, it must be tried on its merits. According to Colorado Constitution, Art. II 6 “court of justice shall be open to every person, property or character; and right and justice should be administered without sale, denial, or delay.” Because of this the district court held that the trial court’s ruling that this case had to be dismissed because the injury was inflicted during a professional football game was error.
  • According to subsection (b) of Rule 404, “Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.” Because the district court did not find the game of football to be on trial, but rather the trial involved a particular act in one game, then the acts of violence which occurred in other games and between other teams and players were without relevance.
  • Because the plaintiff was not shown to have been an unlawful aggressor in the immediate incident, his prior acts are not relevant.
  • Recklessness requires the intent to do the act, but without an intent to cause the particular harm. It is enough if the actor knows that there is a strong probability that harm will result.


  • The question in this case is whether in a regular season professional football game an injury which is inflicted by one professional football player on an opposing player can give rise to liability in tort where the injury was inflicted by the intentional striking of a blow during the game.
  • Whether the trial court erred in ruling that as a matter of policy the principles of law governing the infliction of injuries should be entirely refused where the injury took place in the course of the game.
  • Whether it was error to receive in evidence numerous episodes of violence which were unrelated to the case at bar, that is, incidents of intentional infliction of injury which occurred in other games
  • Whether it was error for the trial court to receive in evidence unrelated acts on the part of the plaintiff
  • Whether the evidence justifies consideration by the court of the issue of reckless conduct?



The ruling court reversed the trial court’s judgment for defendant and remanded a new trial holding where no law prevented the application of tort concepts to football. They found that the plaintiff had the right to have his tort claims adjudicated and that the evidence of plaintiff’s prior football conduct was irrelevant to claims and improperly admitted.