Court rules coach who invited players to fight did not cause Plaintiff's injuries
In a stunning and disappointing display of obtuseness, the Court of Appeals ruled this week that a coach who invited two football players to duke it out was not the cause of the "loser's" injuries. The Plaintiff, Keith Gray, and another ballplayer got into a shoving match over selecting the music to be played in the football weight room. Other players separated them before any injuries were suffered, however, when the coach entered the weight room, he invited the two players to "settle it" and told the other players to stop restraining Benson. Benson then attacked the Plaintiff with a vengeance, causing serious injuries. An uninvolved witness corroborated this account. Gray's parent filed a lawsuit against the coach, alleging that his actions in inviting the continued affray constituted gross negligence.The school's insurer sought summary disposition, arguing that the coach, Leonard Cry, was not guilty of gross negligence and not "the" cause of Gray's injuries. The trial judge repudiated this effort, holding that a reasonable jury could disagree, and the insurer appealed. On appeal the Court of Appeals ruled that the assailant, Benson, was "the" cause of the injuries and that a reasonable jury could not conclude that the coach was the cause.
That is an interesting factual assertion, since the shoving match had been controlled, without injury, prior to the coach's intervention: remove him from the equation and there are no injuries. It is not a surprise that young men engaged in a violent enterprise like football might occasionally suffer from an abundance of testosterone and that conflict might result. That is one reason why we employ adult coaches to supervise these activities. When a coach not only abdicates that authority but also forces the bystanding men to abdicate as well, reasonable people can readily conclude that the coach is "the" cause of the resulting injuries.
An outcome this absurd and disappointing would not be possible if the "Engler Majority" on the Michigan Supreme Court had not re-considered several decades of statutory interpretation and forced claimants against government to prove that government action was the sole cause of harm. Previously, government actors, like all other wrong-doers, were held responsible for their "share" of fault--at least, if it was greater than the Plaintiff's.