The Superior Court has refused to enforce an exculpatory release that would have insulated a college from liability for serious injuries suffered by two student athletes during a football drill. Attorneys Daniel J. Siegel and Nicole Kratzer of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC served as appellate counsel with Attorney Andrew Motel, who filed the case and represents the plaintiffs before the trial court.
In Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, et al., the plaintiffs asserted that Lackawanna College’s failure to have qualified athletic trainers at the practice, and the use of a dangerous tackling drill, constituted gross negligence or recklessness. In support of their claims, plaintiffs retained multiple experts, including Richard C. Slocum, former Texas A&M University head football coach. The defendants asserted, however, that the students had signed a pre-injury release barring their claims that the college staff had made an improper return-to-play decision during a drill in which no licensed athletic trainer was present.
Judge Jacqueline Shogan authored the precedential decision, which was issued on February 24, 2017. Relying on Tayar v. Camelback Ski Corp., the Court concluded that otherwise valid liability waivers are unenforceable in claims of gross negligence or reckless conduct. The Superior Court also held that a special relationship exists between a college and its athletes, and that Lackawanna College had a duty to be reasonably prepared to handle foreseeable medical emergencies that occur during participation in a contact sport.
The Court also expressed its concern that the use of waivers such as this by colleges and universities would encourage the schools to ignore the health and safety of student athletes: “Aside from the concern about this practice drill being considered an inherent risk of football, we are concerned with a release being used to excuse a college from having qualified medical personnel readily available to its student athletes. Colleges are expected to put a priority on the health and safety of their students, especially student athletes engaged in dangerous sports. Many colleges profit significantly from student athletes’ participation in these sports. Enforcing a release and granting summary judgment in a situation where the availability of qualified medical personnel is called into question would jeopardize the health and safety of such student athletes by removing at least one incentive for colleges ‘to adhere to minimal standards of care and safety.’”