Jury verdict for high school pole vaulter paralyzed during warmups gets $6.4M

In a Connecticut case where the plaintiff alleged “Negligent Supervision,” the jury found in favor of the injured athlete. The former high school athlete who was paralyzed in a pole-vaulting accident during an unsupervised warmup on a shortened runway recovered $6.4 million. In 2002, the 18 year old vaulter ascended 10 to 12 feet into the air and was inverted, but then the young man stalled. Instead of landing in the soft “landing pit,” he fell backward and landed on his back on the ground. He claimed that there should have been a supervisor, who would have recognized that the runway was shortened by a batting cage at the starting point, making it unsafe to practice pole vaults.

There was only 105 feet of runway which violated the required length of 130 feet. The defense argued the pole vaulters were told not to practice until officials were present to supervise, and that the student athlete was to blame for disobeying an order. The jury found the pole vaulter 20 percent negligent and USA Track & Field Association/Connecticut 80 percent negligent, which reduced the $8 million award. In Virginia, under such facts, White v. USA Track & Field Inc. may have had a completely different outcome. There may have been a defense verdict, since contributory negligence and assumption of the risk are complete bars to recovery for such losses, even catastrophic paralyzing injuries.

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