Benitez v. New York City Board of Education

543 N.Y.S.2d 29 (1989)

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Benitez v. New York City Board of Education

New York Court of Appeals
543 N.Y.S.2d 29 (1989)

EL

Facts

Nineteen-year-old Sixto Benitez (plaintiff) suffered a paralyzing spinal injury during a football game for his school, George Washington High School (GW). Benitez, a star player with multiple scholarship offers, voluntarily joined his school football team. After dominating Division B for three consecutive seasons, GW was moved into the more competitive Division A of the state school athletic league. GW administration had argued against the change, asserting that the new placement against far larger schools could lead to player injuries. After GW exhausted all appeals, it was forced to remain in Division A. The GW coach, afraid of injury to his players, urged the principal to drop the football program. The request was denied. On the day of Benitez’s injury, GW played the much larger John F. Kennedy High School (JFK). Before the GW-JFK game, the coach advised the principal that he would like to pull out of the very mismatched game. The coach’s request was again denied. Near the end of the first half of the game, Benitez broke his neck while correctly executing a block. Benitez had been playing the whole half without any rest breaks. Benitez realized he was tired but did not complain or ask for a substitute. Benitez’s coach did not force him to continue playing. Benitez sued the board of education and the state school athletic league (collectively, the school organizations) (defendants), alleging negligence in allowing the game to continue against mismatched opponents and in allowing a fatigued Benitez to continue playing without a break. The school organizations argued that Benitez had assumed the risk of injuries. The state trial court instructed the jury that negligence occurred if the school organizations failed to exercise the same level of care as a parent of ordinary prudence. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Benitez but determined his comparative negligence should reduce his recovery by 30 percent. The school organizations appealed, but the state appellate court affirmed. The school organizations appealed to the state’s highest court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Bellacosa, J.)

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