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Yatsko v. Berezwick

December 4, 2007

TRACEY YATSKO, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOSEPH BEREZWICK, ANDREA EDMONDS, AND THE TAMAQUA AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 10). Having been fully briefed and argued, the case is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff was formerly a student at Tamaqua Area High School. (Complaint (Doc. 1) (hereinafter "Complt.") at ¶ 4). At the time of the events in question, Defendant Joseph Berezwick was the Head Basketball Coach at the School and an employee of the Defendant School District. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 7). Defendant Andrea Edmonds was also a School District employee, as well as Assistant Basketball Coach. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 7).

The incident that gave rise to the instant lawsuit began on January 10, 2005. (Id. at ¶ 9). At that time, plaintiff was a starting player on the Tamaqua High basketball team. (Id.). During the second quarter of a game on that date, plaintiff leapt for a rebound. (Id. at ¶ 12). When she landed, the top of her head struck the top of another player's head. (Id.). The force of the collision immediately caused plaintiff visual problems and a painful headache. (Id. at ¶ 13). Because of a lopsided score, plaintiff did not play in the game after she hurt her head. (Id.). At the end of the game, plaintiff told Defendant Edmonds that she had hit her head, had a headache, and was in a great deal of pain. (Id. at ¶ 14). Edmonds then took plaintiff to her mother, who was watching the game, telling her that plaintiff had been "bumped around in the game." (Id. at ¶ 15). Edmonds did not take plaintiff to the trainer during the game because she did not want the trainer to say she could not play. (Id. at ¶ 16).

Following Defendant Edmonds's advice and her own knowledge of head injuries, plaintiff's mother woke plaintiff from her sleep every few hours that night to ensure her safety. (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff attended school the next day, but had a painful headache all day. (Id. at ¶ 18). She could not concentrate, felt nauseated, and told several friends that she had suffered a concussion. (Id. at ¶ 19).

Plaintiff's symptoms continued into the next day, January 12, 2005. (Id. at ¶ 20). Her basketball team had a scheduled game against Pine Grove, Pennsylvania that day. (Id. at ¶ 21). Plaintiff cried on the bus to the game, telling teammates and others that she had suffered a concussion and felt terrible. (Id. at ¶ 22). During warmups for the game, she had difficulty participating, felt weak, and shook. (Id. at ¶ 23). Defendants Edmonds and Berezwick observed these problems. (Id.). Plaintiff told her coaches that she had suffered a concussion in the previous game. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25). Armed with this information, Defendants Berezwick and Edmonds set up a signal that made plaintiff responsible for telling coaches when she needed to leave the game. (Id. at ¶ 26). The coaches told her she was the team's tallest player and needed to remain in the game. (Id. at ¶ 27). Following the district's policy, no trainer was present at the game. (Id. at ¶ 28). Defendant Berezwick asked plaintiff several times during the game if she was okay. (Id. at ¶ 29). At the end of the game, plaintiff's nausea increased and she began to shake and feel unsteady. (Id. at ¶ 30). She collapsed to the ground in the locker room. (Id. at ¶ 31). The Pine Grove trainer gave her a chocolate bar, which she could not chew or swallow. (Id. at ¶ 32). Defendant Berezwick then asked plaintiff if he should call an ambulance for her. (Id. at ¶ 33). Instead, the two coaches help plaintiff board the bus back to school. (Id. at ¶ 34).

On the bus ride home, Defendant Berezwick asked plaintiff if the bus should stop at the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 35). Plaintiff replied that she wanted to see her mother. (Id. at ¶ 36). Defendant Edmonds met plaintiff's mother at a restaurant after the game and informed her that her daughter had collapsed. (Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff's mother asked Edmonds why her daughter had played, since she had been under the impression that the prior head injury would prevent that. (Id. at ¶ 38). Edmonds explained that she had spoken with the other coaches, and that plaintiff had expressed a desire to play. (Id. at ¶ 39). Defendant Berezwick then told plaintiff's mother to take her to the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 40). At the hospital, defendant Berezwick told plaintiff's mother that her daughter had wanted to play, and that he "had made the wrong call" in not preventing it. (Id. at ¶ 41).

As a result of this improper medical treatment, plaintiff suffered serious brain injuries that caused "potentially permanent health problems." (Id. at ¶ 42). She has been unable to participate in sports, missed several months of high school and dropped out of college. (Id.). Plaintiff's health problems include "serious brain injuries, aggravation of cerebral concussion and permanent sequalae therefrom, blurred vision, loss of balance, headaches and depression." (Id. at ¶ 43). These injuries led to serious medical expenses, and will continue to do so. (Id. at ¶ 44).

On December 28, 2006 plaintiff filed the instant complaint (Doc. 1). Count I alleges that Defendants Berezwick and Edmonds failure to obtain proper treatment for plaintiff's head injury violated her constitutional right "to be free from state occasioned or created harm to her bodily integrity and health" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count II alleges a Section 1983 violation against the School District. Plaintiff contended that she "possessed substantive and procedural rights including a liberty interest in her bodily integrity, freedom from state created dangers, and a right not to be harmed under the constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." The School District, plaintiff claimed, "affirmatively created a danger to students . . . when it allowed students participating in potentially dangerous sporting activities to be in the care, custody and control" of the individual defendants. Plaintiff also alleged that the School District failed to established proper policies, procedures and training for personnel responsible for supervising athletes. Such policies amounted to "reckless indifference" to student-athlete's needs. Count III is a state-law negligence claim against all the defendants based on the defendants' failure to respond properly to plaintiff's condition on January 10, 2005. Count IV raises a state-law negligence claim against the school district related to the districts failure to provide proper training to prevent injuries to athletes like the plaintiff.

On April 12, 2007, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 10). Both sides filed briefs and we heard argument, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental ...


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