The mother of a high school football player who died during pre-season practice last summer announced her intention to file a lawsuit against the school system. She alleges that the school and its athletic department failed to adequately protect its players against heat-related injuries. Changes to the rules governing summer practices may help prevent future incidents in Florida high school football, but heat stroke and other injuries remain a serious problem for athletes around the country.
Isaiah Laurencin played in the offensive line of Miramar High School’s football team. The 16 year-old was 6-feet-3-inches tall, weighed 286 pounds, and had reportedly drawn the attention of college scouts. He collapsed on the field during conditioning drills at about 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. Doctors pronounced him dead at the hospital the following morning. The medical examiner ruled Laurencin’s death “natural,” saying it resulted from sickle cell trait anemia, which caused cardiac arrest due to physical exertion. Sickle cell anemia can cause heightened sensitivity to heat, and therefore higher susceptibility to heat stroke. Laurencin also reportedly suffered from asthma and hypertension.
Laurencin’s mother, Angela Cooper, believes that heat exhaustion played a direct role in her son’s death. The outside temperature at the time of his collapse was reportedly eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Reports indicate that most sports-related deaths involve complications from sickle cell trait and heat stroke. Cooper says she was not aware of the risks of heat stroke associated with Laurencin’s condition. He had collapsed during summer training in 2010, according to the New York Times, and was hospitalized for several days. His doctor told his family at the time, according to Cooper, that he could continue to play.
Cooper filed a notice of intention to sue with the Broward County school district. The notice to the school district is required by law, since the district is part of the government and therefore privileged from suit, unless a prospective plaintiff follows a process of notice and approval for a claim. The notice reportedly outlines the claim that the school was negligent in its hiring, training, and supervision of coaches and other athletic personnel. The school, Cooper claims, did not take adequate precautions to protect players from heat-related injuries, particularly Laurencin, given his existing medical condition. The district, and the coaches, therefore allegedly breached a duty to Laurencin to take reasonable precautions to protect him from heat-related injuries during an outside athletic activity in south Florida during one of the hottest times of the year, when players are likely to be wearing full pads.
At least partly in response to Laurencin’s death, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has created new guidelines for “heat acclimatization procedures” for all fall sports. The guidelines, known as Policy 39, impose a strict 2-1-2-1 schedule, meaning any day with two practices must be followed by a day with only one. Individual practice sessions are limited to three and a half hours, not to exceed eighteen hours in a week. Periods of “intense exercise” cannot exceed ninety minutes.
The attorneys at Cohn & Smith help recover compensation for people in South Florida who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to sports-related injuries. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online, or call us at (954) 431-8100, or at (305) 624 9186.
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