Court rules school board, coach not liable for fatal hijinks
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A former football player in North Carolina who watched his high school buddy crushed to death can’t sue the coach and school district for negligence that he says caused him severe emotional pain, a state appeals court decided Tuesday.
The Court of Appeals ruling upholds a trial judge’s decision to throw out Nicholas Riddle’s lawsuit blaming the Buncombe County Board of Education for a teammate’s fatal horseplay. The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that Riddle’s emotional suffering after narrowly avoiding his potential death was not reasonably foreseeable.
Riddle sued after Asheville football player Donald “Donnie” Crotty, 15, was fatally run over during a 2011 practice by an all-terrain vehicle driven by another teenage player, Roderick Brown Jr. The court ruling said Brown was driving too fast and recklessly, but sheriff’s investigators determined the ATV driver wasn’t at fault.
Riddle, through his lawyers, argued in the lawsuit that school officials’ negligence had led Riddle to suffer emotional distress regarding the safety of both himself and his friend, Crotty.
“We disagree,” Judge Ann Marie Calabria wrote for the court panel. “Allegations of ‘temporary fright’ are insufficient to satisfy the element of severe emotional distress.”
The case is the first time the court said it considered the impact of witnessing a terrible mishap on a friend instead of a family member. The judges said the connection wasn’t close enough to claim damages.
“The complaint contains no allegation or facts suggesting that the pair shared an unusually close relationship. Nor does plaintiff explain how his friendship with Crotty demonstrates any ‘peculiar susceptibility’ to severe emotional distress,” Calabria wrote.
Riddle filed the lawsuit last year against the school district, former Roberson High School varsity football coach James Beatty and the teammate driving the John Deere vehicle.
The fatal accident happened on a July day that the football team was practicing on the school’s field. The ATV was used to move items during and after practice, and Beatty asked Brown to haul large Gatorade coolers across the field.
Brown, “traveling at an unsafe and excessive rate of speed, drove the John Deere across the field as plaintiff, Crotty, and several players walked toward him. When they realized that Brown was driving directly at them, the players moved to avoid the John Deere,” the ruling said. But the driver simultaneously turned the steering wheel to the right, hitting and then running over Crotty, the judges said.
The panel’s unanimous decision means the lawsuit cannot be appealed to the state Supreme Court unless the justices choose to consider it.
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