Football player suit partly settled Female fullback hurt in scrimmage

May 13, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

After saying last fall that they would "vigorously defend" the $1.5 million lawsuit filed against them by the county's first female high school football player, the Carroll County school board recently settled one of the three counts in the suit for an undisclosed amount of money.

"The agreement we have is confidential," Edmund J. O'Meally, one of the school board's attorneys, said yesterday. "The count has been dismissed by mutual agreement."

The issue settled between the board and Tawana Hammond was the third count of the three-count lawsuit.

In that count, Miss Hammond said Francis Scott Key Eagles coach Michael Coons told her and her mother that the premium on an accident insurance policy didn't have to be paid until Aug. 25, 1989, and that the policy already was in force.

On Aug. 25, in her debut scrimmage as an Eagles fullback and safety, Miss Hammond was seriously injured. When she was tackled by an opposing Brooklyn Park player, Miss Hammond fell on the knees or feet of another player, rupturing her pancreas and spleen.

Half of her pancreas and spleen were removed in surgery the next day, and she spent the next four months recovering at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Miss Hammond and her mother, Peggy Hammond, later found out that the policy was not in force, and that the injury would not be covered by insurance.

The Hammonds sought $250,000 in damages on that count. "We settled that, and the board paid good money," said the Hammonds' attorney, William D. Kurtz.

While the board and Miss Hammond settled that issue, two counts -- seeking a total of $1.25 million -- are still active.

The school board will try next month to persuade a judge to dismiss them.

In the dismissal motion, the school board makes three arguments for summary judgment:

The school board "owed no duty" to warn Miss Hammond of the inherent dangers of football. Even though the school board wasn't required to do so, "the undisputed facts in this case plainly demonstrated" that warnings were given. And, the school board says, Miss Hammond knew the risks of the sport and decided to play anyway.

"It is 'self-evident' that any person who dons the helmet and shoulder pads and engages in the blocking and tackling required of the sport runs the risk of injury," the dismissal motion said.

Miss Hammond and her parents read and signed several school safety notices and were told of the dangers of football.

State law does not require local school sports departments to provide parents and students with disclosures of dangers associated with high school sports.

"We feel very strongly we're in the right," William J. Kobokovich Jr., another school board attorney, said yesterday. "We did nothing wrong."

Plaintiffs' attorney Mr. Kurtz said:

"The basic thrust of this case is that, when you are a school, you have a responsibility to protect the students. You should warn people. If you're going to have students under your control in any part of the curriculum -- English, wood shop or interscholastic sports -- you have a responsibility to protect them."

Miss Hammond should have known the risks she was taking, the board counters.

"The risks inherent in the sport of football are both obvious and foreseeable," the board's dismissal motion said. "Although Tawana Hammond's injuries are truly unfortunate, the board cannot now be held accountable for this accidental injury which occurred as a result of Tawana Hammond's voluntary participation in the sport of football."

In their response to the board's dismissal motion, Miss Hammond and her mother call the school system's position "spurious."

"For the school board now to sit back and argue that it had no duty to warn of any of the risks involved in playing organized football . . . is spurious at best," Mr. Kurtz says in the response, filed last week in Carroll Circuit Court.

A judge will hear arguments June 14 on the school board's dismissal request. Should the judge deny the request, a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 2.

In the lawsuit, filed last August, Miss Hammond claims that school officials inadequately warned her of the dangers of playing football.

Miss Hammond, now 20, was a standout track star at Francis Scott Key when she decided to try out for the football team. Her pursuit was big news in Carroll County at the time. The 5-foot, 7-inch, 130-pounder tried out and qualified for the football team.

According to her attorney, she was not at a tremendous weight or height disadvantage, as the Eagles were a small team in 1989. It wasn't until she met the 200-pound-plus linemen of Brooklyn Park that her size became a disadvantage, Mr. Kurtz said.

"Sure, she practiced with the team, but it didn't get competitive until Brooklyn Park," Mr. Kurtz said. "She was never fully warned of that before she joined the team."

Miss Hammond had hoped to continue competitive sports while pursuing a career in the military, Mr. Kurtz said. Those hopes were --ed by her injuries, which, the lawyer says, have required nine operations so far.

She will not be able to bear children.

"That's been very depressing for her," Mr. Kurtz said.

Miss Hammond, who now lives in Baltimore, works as a security guard at a Rite Aid drug store in the city.

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