Law & Courts

Judge Allows Lawsuit Against Pop Warner to Proceed to Trial

By Bryan Toporek — December 30, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Los Angeles judge last week ruled that a teenage football player may proceed to trial against the national Pop Warner organization, four years after he suffered an on-field injury that left him a quadriplegic.

The teen, Donnovan Hill, alleges that his coaches taught and instructed him to use “a negligent tackling technique” that resulted in his paralysis back in 2011, when he was 13 years old. His coaches allegedly taught him a head-first tackling technique, “insisted he use it despite his complaints, and refused to intervene and correct Donnovan when he repeatedly employed the tackling technique in practices and games,” according to the lawsuit.

While Pop Warner sought to have the suit dismissed because Hill’s mother, Crystal Dixon, signed a pre-participation waiver that warned of the risk of injury, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller decided that such a waiver “does not cover gross negligence,” according to ESPN.com’s Tom Farrey. Accordingly, he decided the lawsuit was fit to proceed to trial, which will begin May 11.

“I think there is a triable issue of whether there was gross negligence,” Shaller wrote in his decision, per the Press-Telegram. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Leonard Aragon, called the ruling “dead-on” while speaking to the paper.

Because the national Pop Warner organization claims to provide training for all coaches to improve safety for its participants, the judge allowed the suit to proceed not only against Hill’s former coaches but against Pop Warner as a whole. According to Farrey, Hill’s former head coach, Sal Hernandez, admitted in a deposition that he never completed the required online modules.

The judge’s decision to hold a national organization accountable for a local misstep could have a significant effect if the plaintiff wins, according to experts.

“It should have the effect of encouraging more coaches to get trained,” said Doug Abrams, a University of Missouri law professor, to Farrey. “We don’t live in the 1970s anymore, particularly in a sport like football where you have concussions. Cases like this are going to make governing bodies more attuned to promoting certification classes and refresher courses and providing greater oversight than what Pop Warner showed here. Sometimes it takes something like this to wake people up.”

When the lawsuit was filed in March 2014, attorney Rob Carey alluded to that being one of his side’s primary goals.

“We plan to introduce evidence that the coaches of this team directly, emphatically, and repeatedly ordered their players to face-tackle, knowing that it was in violation of Pop Warner guidelines and was a hazardous technique,” Carey said. “We suspect that this practice may be more widespread, and hope that this case will put a quick end to the practice.”

Abrams told Farrey that Shaller’s ruling will encourage Pop Warner to settle the suit before it goes to trial.


A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP