Personal Injury Accident Lawsuit by Plaintiff Who Fell on a Basketball Court at School*



Personal Injury Accident Lawsuit Summary:

This is a case review of a hearing on three Motions for Summary Judgment filed by three separate defendants in the same lawsuit. The suit was originally filed by a young woman and her father.

In the suit, they contended the young woman was seriously injured at a basketball clinic during one of the required running drills.

The lawsuit also claimed that the injuries were a direct result of negligence on the part of the corporation which owned the basketball clinic, the man who actually operated the clinic, and the owner of the premises where the clinic was operated.

Subsequent to the filing of the personal injury accident lawsuit, all three defendants filed their respective Motions for Summary Judgment. Each party argued they should be "dismissed" from the lawsuit.

Statement of Facts...

On February 1st, 2011, Mary Shy was brought by her father Ron Shy to a summer basketball clinic named Starts Basketball Clinic, Inc. The clinic was owned and operated by a local basketball coach named John Watson. "Coach", as he was referred to by all who knew him, began the clinic ten years earlier as a way for young woman to improve their basketball skills during a three week intensive summer training clinic.

The clinic's purpose was to provide a level of training in basketball skills over and above the training available at the high school level. The clinic was competitive and was much sought after by many young female high school athletes.

Approximately three weeks into the clinic, on February 22nd, the plaintiff Shy was injured while participating in a group running drill.

The drill had required participants to line up at the basketball court's baseline and to stretch their arms out on both sides. As each participant touched the fingertips of the other's hand, they established the distance each was required to stay away from the other during the ensuing drill.

When the coach blew his whistle the participants were to begin a sprint all the way down the basketball court. Once there, the coach would blow his whistle again, and the sprint would begin in the other direction.

Shy was leading the other participants in the first two sprints. As the coach's whistle blew and Shy was a few steps into her fourth sprint, another young woman came out of her lane and collided with Shy, knocking Shy to the ground. Shy immediately began to cry out in pain. In an attempt to break her fall, Shy had stuck out her arm and hit her elbow on the floor of the gymnasium.

Once he heard Shy's cries, Coach stopped the drill and ran to render aid. By now other runners were also trying to comfort her. Coach called 911, and fire and ambulance responded within minutes. Shy was transported to the local emergency room where she underwent an MRI exam, a CAT scan, and a series of X-rays.

The results confirmed Mary suffered a fracture to the bones which formed her elbow as well as a tearing of the adjoining ligaments, tendons, and surrounding muscle tissue.

After the accident, Shy's father's attorney investigated the circumstances leading up to the collision. He learned from several participants that although the runners were originally told to keep at arm's length during each sprint, many did not. Several runners told Shy's attorney the runner who collided with Shy continually refused to stay at arm's length from the other runners.

Shy's father was quite upset with his daughter's injuries. He knew his daughter Mary was being scouted by several colleges who may have been considering offering her athletic scholarships. With her recent injuries and inability to play her final season, Shy's father was convinced the injuries would result in Mary's elimination from contention for those scholarships.

Ron Shy filed a personal injury accident lawsuit against Starts Basketball Clinic, Inc., its owner and operator, Coach John Watson, and St. Catherine's High School.

The lawsuit contended all three defendants individually and collectively were negligent, and that negligence resulted in the injuries to his daughter Mary. The plaintiffs argued it was the job of the clinic, the coach and St. Catherine's to ensure that the running drill was conducted safely and that all the runners had adequate space to run.

The Hearing...

All three defendants argued the plaintiff Mary Shy and her father should take nothing and the lawsuit against all three be dismissed.

Specifically, they argued that Shy, by registering for, and voluntarily participating in, the basketball clinic knew the sport was a "contact" sport, and that in contact sports participant athletes are sometimes inadvertently injured.

They also argued that by agreeing to participate in the clinic Mary Shy and her father "assumed the risk" inherent in all contact sports. As a result the defendants owed no duty other than to supervise the clinic and its exercises in a reasonable and prudent manner.

Each defendant also offered arguments as to why they, individually, should not be liable:

  • The Coach argued that he should be personally non-suited from the personal injury accident lawsuit because he was protected by the corporation he created to operate: Starts Basketball Clinic, Inc.

  • The Clinic argued the unfairness of holding it liable for the plaintiff's injuries since Shy had assumed the risk of participating in the clinic.

  • St Catherine's argued they were an "innocent" party, contending all they did was rent the space to the coach and the clinic. If they had reason to believe Coach was not properly supervising the participants St. Catherine's would have intervened. Without that knowledge, they couldn't be held liable for Shy's injuries.

Outcome...

The Court found under normal circumstances the formation of a corporation will shield an owner, officer or shareholder from personal liability. But in this personal injury accident lawsuit the court felt it had to "pierce the corporate veil."

The Court said if Coach left the Clinic in the hands of those persons employed to teach or instruct, and a participant was unintentionally injured the court would have upheld the corporation's legal protections for the Coach.

In this case though, the court ruled Coach was an active participant in the plaintiff's training, and as such could not be permitted to stand behind the corporate veil of protection.

St. Catherine's contention of having leased without incident their premises to the Clinic and the Coach for ten years lead the court to believe they acted prudently when leasing the space. The Court therefore granted St Catherine's Motion for Summary Judgment and dismissed the plaintiff's personal injury accident lawsuit against it.

Alternatively, the Court found the Starts Basketball Clinic, Inc. and Coach John Warren's actions raised triable issues of fact, and those issues should be heard in a full trial. Therefore the motion as to these defendants was denied.

Important Points...

  • When some corporations are formed, usually those which are "Subchapters S", the law normally allows that corporation to shield the owners, officers and shareholders from personal liability. Under certain circumstances, that "corporate veil" can be pierced.

  • "Assumption of the Risk" is a legal benchmark upon which injured parties must be judged. If, while an active participant in a sporting event, a participant is injured, the party's "assumption of the risk" will often bar that person from recovery for his injuries through a personal injury accident lawsuit.


*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

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