A Los Alamitos teenager who was paralyzed by a freak hit in a November 2011 football game in Laguna Hills can proceed with his lawsuit against the national Pop Warner organization and his former local chapter, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller rejected the Pop Warner organizations' motion to dismiss the negligence suit and ruled that the plaintiffs-Donnovan Hill and his mother Crystal Dixon–can seek punitive damages from his Lakewood Lancers coaches.
"The plaintiffs' allegations that the coaches knew that children would get hurt while tackling as instructed is theoretically malicious or oppressive," wrote Shaller.
But the judge added that Dixon must further explain her claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, specifically whether she knew Donnovan's coaches had taught him to tackle with his head.
Hill was a two-way star for the 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. Then 13, he scored the first touchdown of the game on a 40-yard running play, but Hill later led with his head on defense to make a successful goal-line stand tackle on a Saddleback Valley running back. The back sprang right up after the helmet-to-helmet contact, but Hill has remained paralyzed with a spinal injury ever since.
Now 16 and after numerous surgeries and procedures, he still only has minimal use of his arms and no independent movement from his upper chest down, according to the suit.
As Hill himself did on an emotional episode of ESPN's 30 for 30, the legal complaint claims the boy was taught by his Pop Warner coaches to tackle head first.
Lakewood Pop Warner and the coaches argue the mother and son must show the coaches meant to cause injuries or that their conduct was reckless. Moreover, they claim coaches should be immune from liability under federal laws covering volunteers.