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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
American University Soccer Player's $10 Million Tort Case Against Former DC United Star

Yesterday, the Washington Post covered an interesting lawsuit filed by a former soccer player from American University against the MLS franchise D.C. United, its owners, and a former player, Bulgarian superstar Hristo Stoitchkov.

In 2003, the AU college team played the United in a scrimmage. According to the Post story:
The incident occured about 10 minutes into a scrimmage . . . during the [American University] Eagles' offseason and a few weeks before United's season opener. [The AU player] was preparing to take possession of the ball when Stoitchkov approached on the run and, in an apparent attempt to disrupt play, slammed his left foot into [the student's] right leg, which, according to the lawsuit, was planted on the field. Stoichkov, who according to the lawsuit, was angry that game officials did not disallow an AU goal moments before the tackle . . . -- was assessed a red card. Both coaches agreed to suspend the game. [The AU player] was removed by ambulance and, later that day, had a four-inch metal plate inserted in his leg.
Plaintiff now seeks $5 million in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages. Stoichkov, now the Bulgarian national coach, was quoted by the Post's Soccer Insider blog:
"I'll leave that to my lawyers but as far as I know this case is closed. I don't care what the press say. I am concentrating on my work in Bulgaria and the national football team."
Duke Sports Law expert Paul Haagen was interviewed for the story, and offered this observation. He offered this on-point observation:
"What this will turn on is expectations -- the expectations of the participants, what the game was about and whether it went beyond those level of expectations . . . . Did the incident go beyond the normal course of the game?"
One wonders what expectations typically are for a scrimmage, as opposed to a competitive game. A player might expect and therefore assume risks in a competitive game that would not be a part of scrimmage play. I'll also be interested to see whether a court treats the AU player according to the less-plaintiff-friendly standard typically applied to professionals (in that he was playing against a pro team), or the more plaintiff-friendly standard that typically applies in amateur or recreational sports injury cases.

In any event, this seems like an odd case to expect punitive damages, since on the part of team and its investors there is certainly no "wanton and wilful" misconduct. As to Stoitchkov, it will depend on how aggravated his conduct is found to be.

HT to UT Law 3L Justin Stone for pointing me to the story.


If the plaintiff is awarded damages I see this having ramifications on professioinal all-star games. Just one month ago Sean Taylor, of the Washington Redskins, laid a vicious hit on a punter during the Pro-Bowl. What if he sustained a career ending concussion? Is it a reasonable expectation that a player will be going at full game speed during the Pro-Bowl, or should players be informed of the expected level of play before hand?

Blogger Jeff -- 2/28/2007 3:20 PM  

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