Posted On: February 17, 2012 by Stephen Bilkis

School Administrator Worried about Football Injury Award

In 1982 jury, in Seattle, Washington, awarded $6.3 million to a high school football player who sustained serious spinal injuries while playing for the school’s team.

That judgment worried one school official. He worried that school boards across the country would be prompted to review the benefits of sports programs unfairly against the possible costs of lawsuits. Programs that could lead to injury, he argued, could possibly be unnecessarily cut.

At the time of the settlement, the claimant was 21 years old.

The young man was left completely paralyzed when he ran with the football in a previous 1975 game held at another school. At the age of 16, the injury left him without the use of his arms and legs. Since then, he has been confined to a wheelchair.

In his suit against the School District, the plaintiff said he was not adequately instructed by his coach of the danger of putting his head down like a battering ram when tackled. He claimed professional negligence.

Other adults, including the worried administrator, said that during their own high school careers, in their high school football programs, they were told to lower their heads when they got tackled. Apparently, the occurrence is very common in football at every level.

A coach says there was evidence showing that players were instructed to keep their heads up, but they were not warned of the potentially crippling spinal injuries that could occur if they did not.

While the school board official was worried about the verdict, the board expressed that “We share the feeling that you hate to see a boy injured.” The school was not expected to drop its football program (and it didn’t). High Schools in Nassau and Queens try to take precautions so that injuries that cause paraplegia do not happen.

The school district was expected to appeal the decision. They asserted that the boy was hurt in a freak accident and that they violated no rules. They also insisted that students must assume some risk when deciding to play the sport of football. The presiding judge said that schools have a high obligation to protect the safety of their students. The young man’s victory was bittersweet as his mother passed away from a stroke the weekend before his victory in court.

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