A Connecticut jury recently awarded $8,000,000 to a young man injured during warm ups for a USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Championship meet in 2002. High school senior pole vaulter Brandon White fractured his back at T5 and T10 levels and remains paralyzed from the chest down. Mr. White claimed that the beginning of the runway was obstructed by a batting cage. He sued the USA Track & Field Association/Connecticut for negligent supervision and for failing to provide a sufficient runway length. His sports and safety expert testified that the the usable runway was 25 feet short of the required USATFA length.
The USATFA defendant contended that Mr. White was instructed not to warm up until an official returned. It also claimed that Mr. White did not properly prepare for his vault attempt and should not have let go of the pole when he did. Mr. White’s waiver of all liability and express assumption of risk were excluded from evidence because Connecticut law disfavors these types of waivers.
The jury, without knowledge of the waiver and assumption of risk, determined that defendants were at fault for his injuries. However, the jury determined that Mr. White was nonetheless 20% to blame and so his award was reduced to $6,400,000.
California law sets the bar higher for plaintiffs to prove their case. California courts generally enforce waivers such as the one Mr. White signed. Unless there were exceptional circumstances, he wouldn’t have been permitted to bring his case to trial.