December 2014 - Parks & Recreation - 27

(3) The standard practice of Fountain Valley High was to
run full practices in the fall with helmets, not without them.
Sonetti testified that every time the drill had been run in the fall
in the previous three seasons, it had been run with helmets. Beyond that, Coach Shipp admitted that if he had had helmets
available, he would have had the players wear them. If standard practice was not to wear helmets, Coach Shipp might very
well have said he wouldn't have had the players wear them.
In light of these facts, the appeals court found the pretrial
evidence had not conclusively established that Sonetti had
necessarily assumed the risk of injury under these circumstances. On the contrary, if Sonetti's negligence claim was allowed to proceed to trial, a jury could " reasonably conclude
that helmets and/or mouthguards were standard practice. "
Similarly, a reasonable jury could find " Sonetti's injuries
would have been prevented or would have been less severe "
if the district had " passed out helmets or mouthguards. "
While there was conflicting pretrial evidence on whether mouthguards were passed out, the appeals court found
there was no dispute that helmets had not been passed out
prior to the practice in which Sonetti was injured. Moreover, the appeals court found the district had not established a " standard practice in fall kickoff coverage drills to
dispense with helmets. "
Coach Shipp's testimony suggesting helmets weren't used
is wobbly, and his statement the drill would have been run
with helmets if they had arrived suggests a standard practice
of conducting kickoff coverage drills with helmets. It is hard
to read that testimony as anything other than an admission
that the only reason Sonetti wasn't wearing a helmet was
that they were not yet available.
When compared with the unequivocal testimony of Sonetti that in the fall season, kickoff drills had always previously
been conducted with helmets, it cannot be said there is no
issue as to whether the standard practice of the school was to
run such drills without helmets.
Further, in the opinion of the appeals court, there was
no pretrial evidence that helmets were " disfavored in the
particular drill being run, " nor any pretrial evidence that
helmets increased the risk of injury. On the contrary, there
was pretrial evidence that the use of properly fitted helmets with mouthguards could be considered a customary
safety precaution under the circumstances.
Even assuming the trial court was correct to read Coach
Shipp's testimony to the effect that the only reason helmets
had been worn for kickoff drills was to accustom players to
their helmets and tackling technique and the coach was indifferent to the extra safety provided by helmets, the uncon	

tradicted evidence, from Sonetti's sports safety expert, is that
helmets would have been desirable for safety reasons...
The kickoff coverage drill here may have fallen short of
that standard as well as the law's. By not waiting until the
helmets and mouthguards arrived, the team lost an experienced player to a broken jaw. Football has its inherent risks,
but in most contexts, including this kickoff coverage drill,
the standard practice appears to be mitigation of those risks
by playing the game with helmets and mouthguards.
Accordingly, the appeals court concluded that the trial
court had erred in granting summary judgment in favor
of the district. As a result, the appeals court reversed the
trial court's effective pretrial dismissal of Sonetti's negligence claim and allowed the case to proceed to trial. At
trial, a jury would decide whether Sonetti had assumed
the risk of injury by participating in the kickoff drill without a mouthguard.

PARKS & R
Salsbur

Feb, Apr, Jun, Aug, Oct, Dec

James C. Kozlowski, J.D., Ph.D., is an attorney and Associate Professor in
the School of Recreation, Health and Tourism at George Mason University
(jkozlows@gmu.edu). Webpage with link to Law Review articles archive
(1982 to present): http://mason.gmu.edu/~jkozlows.

W W W. N R PA . O R G | D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 4 |

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December 2014 - Parks & Recreation - 1
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