Student Paralyzed at Football Practice Can Continue Lawsuit

A judge in New Jersey has declined a defense request to dismiss a civil lawsuit filed by a former high school football player who was paralyzed during practice six years

According to the Union Leader, the student is looking to hold liable the school district and two of his former coaches. The school district had filed a motion to dismiss, and the judge denied this request. This ruling was reaffirmed upon a motion for reconsideration.

Plaintiff suffered a spinal cord injury during a preseason football practice in 2010 that rendered him quadriplegic. He was just 15-years-old at the time, and was a member of the school’s junior varsity team.

Today, he’s 21 and his entire life has been significantly altered.

Legal counsel for the school district continues to assert that recreational use statutes should allow the district to claim immunity. New Hampshire, just like Florida, has a recreational use statute. Governmental agencies as a rule have sovereign immunity from injury lawsuits, except where they have provided a waiver of liability in certain instances. In New Hampshire, those rules are spelled out in RSA 507-B:5. In Florida, the sovereign immunity waiver is spelled out in F.S. 768.28.

Florida’s recreational use statute, as codified in F.S. 375.251, states that owners or lessees of land who open it to the public for free and recreational use enjoy immunity for injuries suffered on that site. However, this statute primarily deals with premises liability. In this case, the school is accused of liability for failure to ensure the coaches gave instruction to players pertaining to the risk of serious injury if tackling was attempted without players keeping their heads up.

This practice marked the team’s first contact practice, wherein the team was wearing pads in their uniform. Plaintiff alleges that at no point was there any evaluation of whether plaintiff or others:

  • Understood how to properly and safely conduct a tackle;
  • Knew the critical importance of keeping one’s head up during a tackle;
  • Was physically able to tackle.

Court records show the personal injury occurred the very first time plaintiff attempted a tackle in a drill against a running back. He put his head down and charged, colliding, head-on with the knee of the oncoming call barrier. As a result of the impact, plaintiff suffered a broken neck.

Plaintiff accuses the coaches and the school for negligent training and negligent supervision.

Although playing sports for a team is a key part of the school experience for many youth. However, there are some inherent risks of personal injury involved in certain sports. Generally speaking, coaches are not strictly liable for injuries, which means plaintiffs need to show negligence and — with regard to school districts — overcome assertions of sovereign immunity. Whether an injury is compensable will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Whether the athlete signed a waiver of liability;
  • What level of involvement the school district had in organizing/ overseeing the sport;
  • What degree of training the coaches had;
  • What degree of training coaches gave to students.

We may also look to see whether the school district or property owner had an insurance policy that would cover student athlete injuries incurred in the accident.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Judge reaffirms ruling not to dismiss paralyzed football player’s lawsuit against Nashua School District, coaches, Oct. 18, 2016, By Kimberly Houghton, Union Leader

More Blog Entries:

No Child Injuries in Miami School Bus, Man Hospitalized, Sept. 29, 2016, Miami Child Injury Lawyer Blog