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Court dismisses suit that alleged coach made players fight

31 May 2013
On May 20, the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former Georgia Southern University football player who suffered injuries after the football coach allegedly forced team members to fight one another during practice.

The student, Jerome Pelham, was a member of the varsity football team at Georgia Southern University.  During a spring practice in 2008, the football coach allegedly organized the team in two lines with players facing each other, and then ordered each pair of players to fight.  The coach allegedly told the team that normal football rules did not apply to the fights, and that he wanted to see who was tough enough to be on the team and earn a scholarship.  Pelham claimed that, during his fight, another player grabbed him by the face mask, jerked him from side to side, and then threw him to the ground, resulting in injuries to his right knee and leg.

Pelham filed suit against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, claiming negligence, negligent supervision and hiring, and negligence per se based on a state anti-hazing law.  The lower court dismissed the lawsuits on sovereign immunity grounds, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed.  The court of appeals rejected Pelham’s argument that the anti-hazing law waived sovereign immunity, citing the fact that the law did not address such a waiver.  As for the other negligence claims, the court sided with the Board because state law reserved sovereign immunity for tort injuries arising from assault and battery.

Christopher Lott

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