Is School to Blame When Football Player Dies After a Fall?
When a high school football player, who has already suffered from several concussions on the field, dies after suffering yet another head injury in an unrelated accident at a school, who’s to blame?
A lawsuit filed in Morris County, N.J., may answer that question – if it ever gets to a jury.
Michael Anthony Mason was 17 when he and his friends sneaked into a Bloomfield, N.J., middle school in 2010. Mason then climbed out a window and onto the roof of the building, where he drank alcohol, eventually falling off and suffering severe head injuries. But sources say a drug overdose may be to blame for his ultimate demise.
His mother, Lisa Marie Mason-Costa, has filed suit against the school district, the doctors that treated his earlier concussions, and the pharmacy and hospital that treated him.
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Mason-Costa’s theory appears to be that the school district is at fault because its doctors and coaches allowed her son to keep playing football, resulting in psychological and behavioral problems, which then contributed his taking drugs, as well as to his being on the roof and drinking and getting hurt again.
State laws vary, but in general, a plaintiff who sues everyone in sight in a complicated fact situation like Michael’s faces an uphill battle, according to a New Jersey personal injury lawyer who did not want to be named.
Who Bears Responsibility?
“With so many actors involved, it gets very difficult to tell who is responsible,” says the lawyer.
If the school where he was injured knew there was an issue with kids crawling onto the roof, that would help the mother’s case; but if he was the first, it’s hard to see how the school would be at fault, he explains.
Also, what the doctors said after each concussion will be important, and if he bought alcohol as a minor, the place that sold it to him could also be on the hook. Then there were the drugs that he was either prescribed or that he abused.
Then you have to take into account the possibility that Michael – and even his mom – might have been negligent as well, says the lawyer. What did the mom know about how damaged her son was? She had to agree to let him play football. By New Jersey law, if a plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault, he or she can’t recover.
This rule, called comparative negligence, also means that the plaintiff’s recovery is affected by the percentage he or she was negligent. So if Mason-Costa and/or her son were found to be, say, 30 percent at fault, she would lose 30 percent of any damages she might be awarded by the court.
In other states, this same principle is known as contributory negligence, and the rule can operate in different ways.
The bottom line is that it will be difficult for Mason-Costa to recover, says the lawyer. “If you gave me this information and asked me to take the case, I wouldn’t do it,” he says.