A lawsuit by the mother of a boy who at 13 was left paralyzed by a freak hit on a Laguna Hills football field–and who went on to become the focus of an ESPN program about his ordeal–has been refiled against Pop Warner. The amended complaint is "more closely focusing on the coaches' lack of training and league-banned tackling techniques Donnovan Hill was taught and continued to use," according to a spokeswoman for Hill's mother, Crystal Dixon.
Hill was a two-way star for the Lakewood Lancers, who went up against Saddleback Valley's Pop Warner team in the Nov. 6, 2011, Midget Orange Bowl championship game at Laguna Hills High School. Hill would score the first touchdown of the game on a 40-yard running play, but he later led with his head on defense to make a successful goal-line stand tackle on a Saddleback Valley running back.
The running back sprang right up after the helmet-to-helmet contact, but Hill remained motionless on the field as his teammates called the coaches over from the sidelines. He was admitted to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, where doctors initially said his spine was not damaged and a fourth vertebrae was successfully replaced in surgery.
Mission doctors later determined that Hill suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury, resulting in quadriplegia. Now 16, he has minimal use of his arms, no independent movement from his upper chest down and is confined to a wheelchair.
Lawyers from Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLC claim in the suit that Pop Warner, its affiliates, Hill's coaches, and members of the Lakewood Pop Warner board of directors are liable for the coaches' repeated and incorrect instruction that Hill and his teammates tackle opposing players by leading with the head, rather than placing the head on the outside of the opposing player, as directed in national Pop Warner rules and coaching materials. Another reason for the refiling was to name more defendants, according to the firm's spokeswoman.
"We intend to show that the coaches of this team ignored every coaching guide–and frankly common sense–in the way they required their players to tackle," says Rob Carey, partner at Hagens Berman and attorney for Donnovan and his mother, in a statement. "Instructing a child to lead a tackle with his head or to spear a player with his helmet is almost beyond comprehension with what we know about the risks."
The 39-page complaint claims Hill and other teammates repeatedly cited physical discomfort and raised safety concerns with the head coach about the improper tackling technique, but were rebuffed, and were coached to keep leading with the head. Carey indicates film footage from the game will support Donnovan's case.
"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 says. "We suspect that this practice may be more widespread, and hope that this case will put a quick end to the practice."
Hagens Berman attorneys will ask the court to award the maximum damages, including punitive damages, allowable by law. Meanwhile, the firm has created an online GoFundMe.com page to solicit donations to help the teen with day-to-day expenses and to help the family construction a bathroom up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. (Give at www.gofundme.com/DonnovanHill.)
Go here to download the complaint: http://www.hbsslaw.com/cases-and-investigations/cases/Pop-Warner.