Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals Case Brief

In Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, the plaintiff Dale Hackbart played for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. In 1973, Hackbart was intentionally struck and injured by Boobie Clark, a player for the defendant Cincinnati Bengals. The case revolves around whether a violent act during a violent game can be considered a tort.

Jurisdiction and Citation

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
601 F.2d 516 (1979)

Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals Case Brief

During the 1973 NFL season, the Denver Broncos faced off against the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Broncos ahead comfortably, Bengals running back Charles “Boobie” Clark became frustrated on the field and struck Broncos defender Dale Hackbart in the back of both the head and neck. Both players went down, and Hackbart was injured. The trial court later determined that while the hit was intentional, it was not Clark’s design to injure Hackbart.

Hackbart ultimately filed a lawsuit against the Bengals for his damages. The plaintiff argued that Clark’s hit was an intentional tort that was outside the bounds of a sporting event. The defendants argued that the only recourse for Hackbart were the sanctions provided by the rules of the game.

The trial court agreed with the Bengals. It held that a violent game like football had its own remedies through penalties and suspension from the game, and that civil action was not appropriate. Hackbart appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rule of Law

Taking part in a violent activity does not waive a party’s liability for an intentional tort.

Legal Issues

Can a party be held civilly liable for intentionally striking another player during an inherently violent sport?


Yes. Participation in a violent even like a professional football game is not a license to strike other players without their consent. The strike occurred not as a part of the game, but due to the frustration of Clark after the play was already over. Just because a football game is violent doesn’t require the abandonment of all reason.

While it is true that the NFL’s rules prescribe a remedy for an unauthorized striking such as the one committed by Clark, these rules further reinforce that Clark’s actions were outside the bounds of a football game. The appellate court determined that a party may be found liable for the intentional striking of another person – even in the context of a game as violent as football. The appellate court overturned the trial court’s ruling in favor of the Cincinnati Bengals as a matter of law, and remanded the case for a new trial.





Related Terms

  • Tort – A civil wrong that harms another party.
  • Damages – Monetary compensation sought by an injured party through a lawsuit.