Expert Witness Proves the Difference in Louisiana Case

This case discussion is provided by Dr. Leonard K. Lucenko, a sports and recreational premises risk management and safety expert. The case title is as follows: Clinton Schriber v. Jewish Community Center of New Orleans.

Case Facts:

In June 1997, plaintiff Clinton Schriber was participating in a recreational basketball league game at the gymnasium owned by the defendant.   The defendant had rented the gymnasium to a local recreational basketball league.  Each team paid an entry fee to participate in league games, which were played on Tuesday nights.

On the date of the incident, the plaintiff=s team was scheduled to play two games against two different teams.  One game was a make up a game. The games were held on a hot, humid Louisiana night.  Although the building was air conditioned, the gymnasium was not.

At some point during the second game the plaintiff went after a loose ball near center court.  As he charged after the ball, his feet slid from under him because of a wet spot on the wooden floor.  His head struck the knee of an opposing player and then struck the gymnasium floor.   The plaintiff lost all feeling in his body.

He was transported to the emergency room of a local hospital where he was diagnosed with catastrophic spinal injuries and underwent surgery for his injuries. The plaintiff was paralyzed as a result of these injuries and has been confined to a wheelchair. He did regain very limited range of motion in his arms and legs but requires home health care assistance on a daily basis.

Inspection and Discovery:

On June 22, 2000, Dr. Leonard K. Lucenko conducted a site visitation to inspect the subject gymnasium. The inspection revealed the following:

1.            There were three fans in the gymnasium, which were located on the gymnasium floor.  A fan was placed at each end of the gymnasium and the third fan was placed on the side. At the time of the injury only two of the fans were operating.

2.            Metal grates in a wall designed to provide an outside air ventilation system for the gymnasium were covered and blocked by 6′ by 3′ gymnastic mats.   Less than  fifty percent of the airflow was possible during the inspection and at the time of the incident, all grates were completely blocked allowing no outside airflow.

3.            The surface on the gymnasium floor was maple wood.  There was moisture on the gymnasium floor from the natural sweating of the wood floors. According to Mr. Schreiber there were small puddles on the floor during the game and no towel boys were present.  Additionally, no mops were made available for the players.

4.            There were three ceiling fans.  At the time of the inspection two were working; one was not open. According to Mr. Schreiber none of the fans were in operation on the night of the incident.

5.            All doors leading to outside of the building were closed as they were during the game when the injury occurred.

The gymnasium was very hot on the day of the inspection.  A club member who was briefly shooting baskets and not actively playing basketball was noticeably perspiring and dripping sweat onto the floor.  These conditions were similar to the conditions that existed at the time of the plaintiff=s injuries. The moisture created by the natural sweating of the wood, when coupled with the sweat of the players during a recreational basketball game held on a hot and humid evening created a hazardous condition that was capable of causing serious or catastrophic injuries.

In addition, statements provided by the plaintiff’s team members confirmed that the gymnasium floor was known to become wet and slippery. They also noted that no cleaning equipment was available to mop or clean the gymnasium floor despite the fact that the players had requested it.

A review of the deposition testimony showed that management and staff of the defendant did not take the hazardous conditions created by the moisture on the gymnasium floor seriously.  They did not take into consideration the fact that wooden floors sweat when there is high heat and humidity.  This can create slippery conditions on the floor.  Additionally, appropriate inspection and maintenance procedures for the gymnasium were not in place at the time of this incident.  The testimony indicated that there was no attempt to make certain that the subject gymnasium was reasonably safe for the conduct of recreational basketball games.

In November, 2001, I submitted a preliminary expert report expressing my opinion that the plaintiff’s injuries were the direct result of the recklessness and negligence of the defendant in permitting playing of recreational basketball games under the hazardous heat conditions and the wet and slippery basketball court.  The defendant failed to

1) establish a system of proper ventilation and air circulation;

2) properly inspect and maintain the gymnasium; and

3) failed to provide equipment to remove the moisture from the court.

Thereafter, I was deposed by defense counsel.  At that time, I testified that the defendants failed to:

1) recognize and detect the dangerous condition created by the lack of ventilation and air circulation on a hot and humid evening;

2) make certain that the gymnasium doors were open;

3) remove the gymnastic mat padding from the metal grates;

4) turn on the fans that would suck out the hot air in the gymnasium instead of only circulating it;

5) make certain that all the ceiling fans were working properly and were being used for league play; and

6) establish and implement appropriate inspection and maintenance procedures for the gymnasium, including the failure to mop and wipe the moisture on the floor.

These actions would have reduced the risk of injury due to slippery conditions on the floor.

Trial:

During my trial testimony I explained to the jury that the hot and humid conditions of the gymnasium led to the creation of the wet and slippery condition on the wooden gymnasium floor.  The jurors were able to understand how this injury occurred, as well as the defendant=s negligence in permitting these conditions to exist. The failure of the defendants to address these conditions and permit playing of the recreational league basketball games placed the public, including Mr. Schreiber, at unreasonable risk for harm.    After my testimony, the jury awarded the plaintiff approximately $12 million.

Conclusion:

I was able to show the jury that the defendant failed to provide a recreational facility that was reasonably safe and free from hazards, thus creating the dangerous conditions that led to the plaintiff=s catastrophic injuries.

Leonard K. Lucenko, PhD is an experienced expert witness having consulted for more than 20 years for defendants and plaintiffs in over 300 cases in education, sport, recreation and camp management.  He is a former college coach as well as the coordinator of the Recreation Professions Program at Montclair State University. Dr. Lucenko taught the ASEP coaching courses as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in Administration and Supervision of Physical Education and Athletics.  He has presented papers at ASTM’s International Symposia concerned with Football, Baseball, and Ice Hockey.  He presented a risk management and safety lecture to elite coaches at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  He was also invited by Major League Baseball to present risk management and safety programs for its RBI Division.  Dr. Lucenko is a Diplomate of the American College of Forensic Examiners and many other professional organizations including AAHPERD, NRPA, NSCAA, American Camp Association and more.  Dr. Lucenko’s web site is: www.lucenkoleonard.com.