HARRISBURG – Judges from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania have reinstated a lawsuit against Lackawanna Junior College and members of its football program staff, filed on behalf of two of its former football players seriously injured in a full-contact practice drill.
On Feb. 24, judges Kate Ford Elliott, Jacqueline O. Shogan and Correale F. Stevens ruled to reverse the judgment of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas and reinstate the suit filed by plaintiffs Augustus Feleccia and Justin T. Resch versus defendants Lackawanna Junior College, Kim A. Mecca, Mark D. Duda, William E. Reiss, Daniel A. Lamagna, Kaitlin M. Coyne and Alexis D. Bonisese.
Both Feleccia and Resch were injured during the same practice on March 29, 2010 during an “Oklahoma Drill,” a football training drill meant to simulate the environment of full-contact. During the course of the Oklahoma Drill, Resch suffered a vertebrae fracture and Feleccia suffered a severe shoulder injury, after a woman he believed was a certified athletic trainer told him he was able to continue participating in practice.
In 2012, Resch and Feleccia sued Lackawanna Junior College, claiming the college coaching staff was negligent and that the school should have had certified athletic trainers available to properly assist injured players.
In response, the defendants argued the plaintiffs could not file suit against the school, since both athletes signed liability waivers to accept the physical risks of playing football and setting aside any rights to engage in litigation, should they be injured.
However, Shogan said the college only had two women available who were not certified athletic trainers – one of whom, the suit claims, was the same one who allegedly advised Feleccia he was able to keep practicing after the initial stinger injury he had suffered.
“Upon review, we conclude that, as in other inherently dangerous activities, the waiver is valid. Like the trial court, we agree that the waiver does not violate public policy, relates to the private affairs of the parties, and is not a contract of adhesion. Indeed, [the plaintiffs] do not specifically challenge the trial court’s analysis of the second and third requirements for the validity of the waiver. Nevertheless, we disagree with the trial court that the waiver is enforceable under the facts of this case,” Shogan said.
Shogan pointed to several reasons for overturning the trial court ruling.
“First, the language of the waiver is not sufficiently particular and without ambiguity as to preclude liability. Although valid, the waiver’s language does not indicate that Lackawanna was being relieved of liability for its own acts of negligence,” Shogan stated, noting the Court had “yet to address waivers of liability in collegiate football.”
“Second, as noted above, in addition to averring negligence, [the plaintiffs] raised issues of gross negligence and recklessness. Instead, the trial court discounted these allegations within a footnote that stated punitive damages do not exist as a separate claim under Pennsylvania law. We do not find such a statement dispositive of whether there were sufficient allegations of recklessness or gross negligence for purposes of the enforceability of the waiver. Indeed, we find that this omission resulted in an incomplete analysis by the trial court and, ultimately, led it to reach an incorrect conclusion,” Shogan added.
Shogan conveyed the Court’s concern with “a release being used to excuse a college from having qualified medical personnel readily available to its student athletes” and that “colleges are expected to put a priority on the health and safety of their students, especially student athletes engaged in dangerous sports.”
“In sum, genuine issues of material fact exist. Thus, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Lackawanna. Accordingly, we reverse the entry of summary judgment and remand for trial. Summary judgment reversed. Case remanded for trial. Jurisdiction relinquished,” Shogan said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Andrew P. Motel in West Chester.
The defendants are represented by Platte Boyd Moring III of White & Williams, in Center Valley.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania case 385 MDA 2016
Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas case 2012-01960
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org