Are high schools liable for students injured during high-school sports?
On December 16, the Fourth District Court of Appeal weighed in on that question by dismissing a lawsuit brought against the Grossmont Union High School District by Michelle Rios, the mother of Colter Rios, a Grossmont High student who suffered a spinal injury while playing on the school's junior varsity football team.
The incident occurred in 2008. During the game, Colter complained of hearing a "pop" in his ankle after a play. According to the complaint, instead of having him get looked at, the coach reprimanded him for not doing so earlier, sending him back in the game.
A few plays later, Rios again complained about the injury and the coach sent him to get his ankle taped. The tape-job was performed by a volunteer who had been enrolled in an athletic training program at a nearby college. After it was complete, Rios went back in the game. During an ensuing play, Rios was tackled and fractured two vertebrae in his back as well as a minor traumatic brain injury.
The family later filed a claim with the school district, which was later denied. The parents then filed a lawsuit in October 2008 in San Diego Superior Court.
In their arguments, attorneys for the school district argued that the State of California does not require schools to have professional athletic trainers on the field and were not liable. The jury later agreed, finding that the district was not negligent in their treatment of Rios or for using a student-trainer.
Attorneys for the family filed an appeal, which appellate judges denied.
In the opinion, the judges appeared to question the severity of the injuries.
"In their opening brief, the Rioses repeatedly assert the tackle made Colter a "tetraplegic," reads the December 16 opinion. "As support that Colter suffered such a devastating injury, however, the Rioses provided no record citations, in violation of established rules regarding factual assertions made in appellate briefs.
"Our own review of exhibits admitted at trial revealed that Colter suffered a neurological injury as a result of the tackle but, fortunately, recovered well and was never a tetraplegic. At oral argument, the Rioses' counsel conceded that Colter is not a tetraplegic, but stated there is disagreement over the extent to which he suffers residual effects of the neck injury. We thus disregard the repeated assertions in the Rioses' briefing that Colter is a tetraplegic (Duarte, at p. 856) and caution their counsel against making such unsupported assertions (Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 5-200(B) [attorney shall not seek to mislead court by false statement of fact])."
The decision comes as lawsuits over high-school-football related injuries become more prevalent. In March of last year, a high school in San Marcos awarded a football player who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury a $4.4 million dollar settlement.