Female football player tries to restore lawsuit

March 11, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Attorneys for Carroll County's first female high school football player -- who was seriously injured in a 1989 practice game -- sought yesterday to persuade the Court of Special Appeals to restore her $1.5 million lawsuit against the school board.

In arguments before the state's second-highest court, lawyers for Tawana Hammond and her mother, Peggy Hammond, said a jury should be allowed to decide whether the Carroll County Board of Education ought to have warned them of the dangers of football.

"The school failed to inform them of the risks, and they had a duty to warn them," Neil J. Bixler, one the Hammonds' attorneys, argued before a three-judge panel of the state's intermediate appellate court.

In his dismissal of the suit in June 1993, Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. concluded that everybody in Carroll County -- including the Hammonds -- knew the risks associated with the sport.

The Hammonds "knew about the risks of serious, disabling and catastrophic injury" assumed by varsity football players, and they chose "to expose the player to those risks anyway," Judge Beck wrote.

Yesterday, Chief Judge Alan M. Wilner and Judges John J. Garrity and Diana J. G. Motz repeatedly asked Mr. Bixler and his partner, William D. Kurtz, why the school board owed anyone a warning about football's dangers.

"What if I say I want to jaywalk? . . . Are you saying I had a right to have somebody warn me that I might get hit by a car?" Judge Motz asked.

Judge Motz further wondered whether the lawyers would choose to have warnings placed on kitchen knives, and Judge Wilner said the dangers of football are almost universally known.

"Assuming this young lady was not from Mars . . . what is so extraordinary about the court saying, 'You've got to know that if you're playing a contact sport you're going to get hurt?' " Judge Wilner said.

"Some people in this society have a limited knowledge of football," Mr. Kurtz said. "The school board has to give the person the chance to know what would happen to their body in this sport. You can't assume what everybody knows."

"If that is the attitude you have, you'd spend your entire school day warning people," Judge Motz responded.

Miss Hammond, now a 20-year-old drugstore security guard living in Baltimore, filed the suit in August 1992. She claimed that school officials had inadequately warned her of the dangers of playing football.

She was a track star at Francis Scott Key High School in Uniontown when she decided to try out for the football team.

The 5-foot-7-inch, 130-pound student was not at a great weight or height disadvantage because the Eagles were a small team in 1989, her attorneys have said. It wasn't until she met the 200-pound-plus linemen of Brooklyn Park High School that her size became a disadvantage.

During her debut scrimmage against the Anne Arundel County team on Aug. 25, 1989, Miss Hammond was tackled by a Brooklyn Park player, fell on the knees or feet of another player and ruptured her pancreas and spleen.

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

Attorneys for the school board contended yesterday that they did not owe Miss Hammond a warning but gave her one anyway. Judge Beck agreed with them when he dismissed the suit last year.

"Football is not a complex sport," school board attorney Edmund J. O'Meally said. "You go out there, you block, you tackle, you try to score touchdowns while preventing the other team from scoring touchdowns. That's football."

Both sides finished presenting their arguments yesterday. The court has no deadline for issuing a decision.

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