Fla. Jury Awards Soccer PlayerTargeted by Rival Coach $277,000
A jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has awarded $277,000 to a former high school soccer player who was injured in 1992 after a rival coach told his players to "waste him."
The award may be the first of its kind in which a coach's words from the sidelines in the heat of competition made him legally responsible for a player's behavior, according to lawyers on both sides of the case.
Lawyers for the Broward County school board, which is liable for 80 percent of the award, or $242,000, expect to be back in court later this month to ask that the verdict be set aside or that a new trial be granted.
The Broward County circuit court jury found last month that the action of Phil Drosdick, the soccer coach at Deerfield Beach High School, had contributed to the December 1992 injury to Gary Beharrie, a player for Piper High School. Both schools are part of the Broward County system.
According to trial testimony, the coach yelled "waste him, waste him" as Mr. Beharrie dribbled the ball down the field in overtime during the game.
Moments later, a Deerfield Beach player kicked Mr. Beharrie in the knee, according to testimony and a videotape of the game.
The jury found the player who kicked Mr. Beharrie to be 20 percent responsible.
As a result of the contact, Mr. Beharrie had to undergo reconstructive knee surgery and lost his college scholarship, said his lawyer, Peter G. Herman.
'Cool Head' Needed
Mr. Beharrie now works with his uncle in a freight company in Miami, and hopes to return to college in January, Mr. Herman said.
"I think at the high school level, when the kids look to you as the leader, it would probably be reasonable under the circumstances not incite this type of thing, but to keep a cool head," Mr. Herman said.
But Ronald E. Solomon, the lawyer representing the school board, said there was no proof of the cause of the incident.
"Whatever words the coach yelled onto the field, the two players who made contact never heard those words," Mr. Solomon said.
"Personally, my concern is that this type of litigation will undermine the practical ability of schools and Little Leagues, city recreational programs, and the like to continue to offer youth athletics," he said.
Because of a penalty called on the play, Mr. Drosdick and the player who kicked Mr. Beharrie were suspended for one game following the incident, and the school was fined $100.
A previous trial last December ended in a jury that deadlocked on all but one issue: The earlier jury found that the coach had not displayed willful misconduct or total disregard for the safety of others, Mr. Solomon said.