IMMUNITY-QUALIFIED IMMUNITY-CONCUSSION INJURY IN SCHOOL SPORTING EVENT

November 6th, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Miscellaneous

Mann v. Palmerton Area School District, No. 16-2821 (3rd Cir. September 21, 2017) Vanaskie, C.J.  In November of 2011 Sheldon Mann, a football player for the Palmerton Area School District, experienced a hard hit during a practice session. While some players thought that Sheldon may have been exhibiting concussion-like symptoms, he was sent back into the practice session by his Coach, Appellee Chris Walkowiak. After being returned to practice, Sheldon suffered another violent collision and was removed from the practice field. He would later be diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. In bringing a lawsuit against Palmerton Area and Walkowiak, Sheldon’s parents asserted that by requiring Sheldon to continue to practice after sustaining the first substantial blow, Walkowiak had violated Sheldon’s constitutional right to bodily integrity under a state-created danger theory of liability. Also, Palmerton Area, the Manns alleged, was accountable under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). The District Court ruled in favor of Walkowiak and Palmerton Area on summary judgment, finding that, while there was ample evidence to suggest that Walkowiak was culpable under a state-created danger theory of liability, a constitutional right to protection in the context presented here was not clearly established in 2011. Accordingly, the District Court granted Walkowiak qualified immunity and dismissed him from the lawsuit on that basis. As to Palmerton Area, the District Court found that the Manns had failed to present evidence sufficient to warrant a jury trial on the question of whether the school district had a custom or policy that caused a violation of Sheldon’s constitutional rights. Accordingly, the District Court entered judgment in favor of Palmerton Area.

We agree with the District Court’s conclusions pertaining to the claims against the football coach: Walkowiak’s alleged conduct, if proven at trial, would be sufficient to support a jury verdict in favor of Mann on his state-created danger claim, but the right in question—to be free from deliberate exposure to a traumatic brain injury after exhibiting signs of a concussion in the context of a violent contact sport—was not clearly established in 2011. Accordingly, the District Court correctly ruled that Coach Walkowiak was entitled to qualified immunity. We also agree with the District Court that the Manns did not present sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial on the Monell claim against Palmerton Area. We will therefore affirm the District Court’s grant of summary judgment.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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