Hagens Berman filed a lawsuit on behalf of former Pop Warner football player Donnovan Hill and his mother Crystal Dixon, claiming the league insisted Hill use improper and dangerous tackling techniques which left the now 16-year-old paralyzed from the neck down.
The suit claims that Pop Warner, its affiliates and Hill’s coaches are liable for the coaches’ repeated and incorrect instruction that Hill and his teammates tackle opposing players by leading with the head, rather than keeping head up and sliding it to the outside of the opposing player on contact, as directed in national Pop Warner rules and coaching materials.
Hill was injured on Nov. 6, 2011, during a championship game in Laguna Hills, Calif. The lawsuit claims that Hill tackled the other team’s ball carrier with his head down during the third quarter while on defense – an incorrect and dangerous method not only banned by Pop Warner but also prohibited at all levels of football.
The 39-page complaint states that Hill and other teammates repeatedly cited physical discomfort and raised safety concerns with the head coach about the improper tackling technique, but were rebuffed, and coaching to lead with the head continued unabated.
Film footage of the game shows Hill consistently making tackles with his head down, according to the complaint. At the moment of injury, Hill’s body went limp after making contact with another player while attempting a tackle with his head down. Doctors at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center later determined that Hill suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury, resulting in quadriplegia.
The lawsuit, filed on March 6, 2014, in the Superior Court of California, details allegations that Hill and his teammates were instructed by Pop Warner team coaches to tackle opposing players by leading with the head, a practice known as “face tackling” or “spearing.” Pop Warner’s rules specifically prohibit the technique, according to the complaint.
The suit claims that Hill’s coaches repeatedly saw him unsafely tackle opponents head-first in both practices and games but did not attempt to correct his technique.
The complaint alleges that Pop Warner and its affiliate entities are also responsible for Hill’s injury for failure to properly train and supervise its coaches. According to the suit, Hill’s head coach did not complete a required coaching course, yet was allowed to continue coaching.
Hagens Berman attorneys are asking the court to award damages, including punitive damages, to the maximum extent allowable by law.
The tragic incident has sparked the creation of a fund to help ease and improve the life of Donnovan Hill, who now struggles to perform day-to-day activities. Hagens Berman has established an online donation fund at GoFundMe.com at www.gofundme.com/DonnovanHill and is seeking ways to aid the family through items such as an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) bathroom.
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