A former Mission Prep football player can seek punitive damages against a teammate who allegedly gave him a concussion during practice, a judge ruled.
The injured player, now a high school senior, filed a lawsuit in May against his teammate, the teammate’s parents, Mission Prep, head coach Chad Henry and others, saying he suffered a brainstem stroke after he was repeatedly hit helmet-to-helmet during practice in August 2013. The charges included assault, battery, bullying and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiff has since transferred to another school.
Because the players were minors at the time, The Tribune is not naming them.
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According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff had bested the other player — the team captain — in practice, causing an assistant coach to ridicule the bested player for getting beat. On the next play, the captain then used his helmet to smash into the plaintiff, the suit states.
The captain continued to smash into the plaintiff with his helmet, the complaint stated, and the plaintiff was eventually diagnosed with a concussion, a brainstem stroke and sensory deficits. His symptoms included headaches, walking pain and difficulty breathing and swallowing.
After the plaintiff went to the hospital, the complaint states, the captain and others bullied the plaintiff in a series of taunting texts.
Mission Prep has declined to comment on the suit. But a motion filed by an attorney for the captain and his parents claimed there was no evidence to support punitive damages.
Punitive damages, which typically entail greater monetary awards, are intended to deter others from actions alleged in a lawsuit. To seek punitive damages, according to a motion filed by attorneys David Tedesco and Michael McMahon, the plaintiffs have to show the captain was malicious and oppressive.
But, they argued, he was only playing aggressively.
“This type of gamesmanship is an integral and inherent part of the game of football,” the motion notes.
Football, the attorneys added, is “an intensely physical and combative sport.”
“When engaging in the sport of football, physical injury, including a concussion, is an inherent risk,” the motion stated, adding, “Football is a game that requires players to assault and batter to play the game.”
In a one-and-a-half page decision filed Aug. 12, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman said the defense argument was “misplaced” and that the plaintiff had provided a sufficient basis for alleging a punitive damage claim.
Quoting California law, Tangeman wrote that malice is conduct intended by the defendant to cause injury or despicable conduct that is carried on “with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others.”
The case is due in court for a case management conference Sept. 17.