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Research Guides

Eastern Washington University Libraries

Physical Education 522: Risk Management Sport & School Law

How to Read a Case

There is a Case Summary at the beginning. Think of this as being the abstract of the case. Read carefully!

Next are Headnotes. These are the main points of law that the case deals with. Think of these as the subject tags. Skim them. If you find one that's relevant, then read in more detail. Write down the terminology used, such as the highlighted terms here. Now you have other more exact terminology to use as search terms, if needed.

Torts > Negligence > Defenses > Assumption of Risk > Athletic & Recreational Activities
Torts > Premises Liability & Property > General Premises Liability > Premises > Recreational Facilities > Sports Facilities

HN4  The nature of the sporting activity is highly relevant in defining the duty of care owed by a particular defendant: What constitutes an unreasonable risk under the circumstances of a sporting event must be delineated with reference to the way the particular game is played, i.e. the rules and customs that shape the participant's ideas of foreseeable conduct in the course of the game. Any analysis of primary assumption of the risk turns on whether or not the injured spectator was subjected to risk or hazards that a reasonable participant would or would not expect to encounter in the particular sporting activity.

Under OPINION is the text that the judge(s) wrote detailing what happened, point of law, their analysis and conclusions. Each of these Opinions are different, like reading short stories written by different people, with lots and lots of footnotes.

Locate a Specific Case

What Am I Looking For?

Court cases have a rather unique citation, so it should be easy to spot them.

Basic court case citation:

Name/Org v Name/Org Vol# Abbrev. Reporter Page# (Year)

Brown v Board of Education 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

You have the names of the parties, then the volume number for the Reporter set (more on this below), then the page number the case starts at, then the year of the case. If the case is reported in a Reporter that covers lots of jurisdictions, then they'll indicate what state with the year (Kan. 1954) or which circuit court (9th Cir. 2007).

There are several Reporter sets. Here they are in order of importance.

U.S. = U.S. Supreme Court. This is the official Reporter for Supreme Court cases. You may also see citations to Supreme Court cases in "unoffical" Reporters, collections published by LexisNexis (looks like L Ed. 2d) or West (looks like S. Ct.). NOTE: With your topics, you won't run into many Supreme Court cases.

F 3d = U.S Court of Appeals. The United States is divided into 13 circuit courts of appeals. The West Coast is the 9th Circuit, so those cases are more important for us than cases from other Circuits. Look for (9th Cir. 2015) at the end of the citation.

Wash. 2d = Washington Reporter. Washington State Supreme Court cases.

Wash. App. = Washington State Court of Appeals cases.

P 3d = Pacific Reporter. This is for state supreme court and appellate court cases. The Pacific Reporter includes Washington, along with Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Thus you need to note which state the case is from. Washington State cases offer more precedence than other states, but states within the region could be argued as more relevant than other regions.

F. Supp. 2d = U.S. District Court cases. Where a federal court case starts. There are 94 district courts. Washington State has 2, not surprisingly divided into Western District and Eastern District by the Cascades. So the location/year will say (E.D. Wash. 2007) or (W.D. Wash. 2007).

Locate a Specific Case

Easiest way of finding a particular federal court case is by the citation. 

Second easiest is by party name, such as Lastname/Organization v United States. But then you will have to skim through the results to find your specific case (you can narrow by jurisdiction, look for the term "Decided" and pay attention to dates), as well as the actual court decision (versus various "paper work" versions that are given the same name -- all it says is "Certiorari denied" or something else short and sweet).

Find Related Cases or Law Reviews - AKA Shepardizing

Once you are looking at the full court case, on the right click on the link Shepardize® this document. Then on the left side, you'll see...

Appellate History to see prior cases that led to your case.

Citing Decisions for other cases that cited yours.

Other Citing Sources to see law review articles, etc. about your case.

What do the icons mean???

  • Red stop sign Red Stop Sign = lots of "negative treatment", sign the original case was overturned
  • Orange box with a Q Orange box with a Q = important cases questioned the results of the original case
  • Yellow caution triangle Yellow caution triangle = some cases questioned the results of the original case, but more wiggle room than the ones above
  • Green box with + sign Green box with a + sign = lots of cases followed the results of the original case
  • Blue circle with an A or Blue circle with an I Blue circle with an A or an I = just has cases that cited it, not making a value judgment on the treatment