Plaintiff argues referees were held to standard to ‘recognize misconduct’
May 6, 2013 — Lawyers’ Weekly — Plaintiff, a 14-year-old high school soccer player, was in an October 2009 game. At one point, defendant opposing team player kicked the plaintiff’s leg with such force that it dislocated plaintiff’s knee, tore three of his four ligaments, and severed an artery. Because of this injury, plaintiff almost suffered a traumatic amputation of his lower leg, escaping that result by a matter of minutes.
After four surgeries and months of rehabilitative physical therapy, plaintiff regained the use of his leg and returned to most of his pre-injury activities, except soccer. He still has scars from the multiple surgeries and requires yearly evaluations to monitor the vascular integrity of the traumatized leg but otherwise has no ongoing medical expenses.
Plaintiff sued both the opposing team player who kicked him and the two referees who worked the game. Plaintiff deposed numerous players and spectators, focusing on the actions of the opposing player leading up to the kick.
The defendant argued that he had simply misjudged the play and that he had intended to kick the ball but struck plaintiff’s leg instead by mistake. Plaintiff demonstrated that this player was observed becoming more and more agitated and angry as the game progressed, and that he had already punched another player.
Experts retained by defendant referees testified that this player acted with “excessive force,” as defined by the United States Soccer Federation, because his actions had “… far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and … placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.”
Despite the aggressive play of the game, defendant referees argued that they did not see any dangerous play; that high school soccer is aggressive, by definition, and inherently dangerous; and that injuries happen without negligence.
Defendants filed a nonparty at fault against the coach of plaintiff’s team, arguing that it was his obligation to pull his team from the field if the play escalated to a dangerous level. However, plaintiff argued that the primary duty was that of the referees to control the game in the first instance.
In this regard, plaintiff focused on the “Standards for Referees” set out in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Guidebook. In building the case, plaintiff argued that the referees had a duty to “see” the dangerous plays that were occurring if they were to abide by the MHSAA Standards to “… ensure games are played fairly, by the rules, within the spirit of the rules and in a safe manner.”
Also, the guidebook requires referees to “recognize misconduct,” and to assess “the intent (of the players) correctly.”
This case was factually intense and legally difficult with all sides convinced that a jury would respond to their arguments. As a result, both facilitation and case evaluation failed to resolve the claim. Ultimately, by conducting negotiations separately with the individual defendant and with the referees, plaintiff was able to resolve the matter for a total settlement of $300,000.
See related story, “Suit over soccer injury settles for $300K.”
Type of action: Sports injury
Type of injuries: Severe leg injuries
Name of case: Confidential
Court/Case no./Date: Confidential; confidential; Oct. 29, 2012
Name of judge: Withheld
Highest offer: $84,500
Settlement amount: $300,000
Case evaluation: $800,000
Most helpful expert: Dr. Kelly VanderHave, orthopedic surgery, Ann Arbor
Insurance carrier(s): Withheld
Attorney for plaintiff: Debra A. Freid
Attorney(s) for defendant: Withheld
Keys to winning: Extensive discovery of teammates; exhaustive preparation for deposing opposing experts; conducting