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Lake Oswego School District faces injury lawsuit

A 14-year-old boy was hurt two years ago in a basketball game
by: Cori Bolger, Hallinan Elementary School students play in gym class near padding on the wall of the school basketball court. A lawsuit against the school district charging a teenager was injured against the formerly pad-less wall in a basketball game two years ago is due to go to trial May 15.

A personal injury lawsuit filed against the Lake Oswego School District goes to trial May 15 seeking damages for a 14-year-old boy injured two years ago in a basketball game.

The suit stems from a January 2004 incident at Hallinan Elementary School during a youth league contest.

On behalf of her son, Portland resident Therese Heaton seeks $13,000 in medical and other expenses in addition to $500,000 in non-economic damages, according to documents filed in Multnomah County.

She alleges that the district was negligent by not providing adequate safety measures the day her son, Nicholas Rhodes, hit his head on an unpadded wall during the game.

The documents also name the Lake Oswego Community School, the Lake Oswego Youth Basketball Association and the Lake Oswego Youth Traveling Basketball Association as defendants.

The suit will most likely settle out of court within the next few weeks, according to attorneys for both sides.

Heaton's attorney David Sugerman said he was given specific instructions to answer all questions related to the incident.

'Nobody wants to see a child get hurt and when it happens, these are the kinds of things that motivate me and other lawyers,' Sugerman said. 'What comes of this is doing the best we can to take care of Nick … The district shares that (responsibility) and maybe there's a lesson to learn here.'

According to the suit, the district did not place pads on the walls to lessen physical impact and should not have allowed children to play on the court without first providing a safe environment.

It also alleges that the proximity of the cement walls to the court boundaries created a 'substantial risk of harm' for players.

About three feet of space separate the wall and the court boundary line, said Hallinan Principal Steve Mauritz.

The Oregon School Activities Association requires a minimum distance of three feet and recommends a distance of 10 feet. According to OSAA Assistant Executive Director Cindy Simmons, the organization does not have a policy regarding padding.

Hallinan now has pads placed on each end wall of the court behind the baskets.

Rhodes, then a fifth-grader at Our Lady of the Lake School, was running down the court while defending against the opposing team. He jumped up to block a shot, lost his balance, tripped and fell headfirst into the unpadded cement wall behind the boundary line. The force of the impact knocked him unconscious.

The suit further alleges that Rhodes suffered a concussion and a traumatic brain injury, with an inner ear injury. It also alleges that Rhodes suffers from permanent injury that impacts his balance, hearing, vision and cognition.

'From what I understand, with good pads up, (Rhodes) might have been bruised, but we wouldn't be talking about a lawsuit here,' Sugerman said.

Sugerman would not say if Rhodes currently plays sports or is limited in his physical activity. A former Lake Oswego resident, Rhodes now attends St. John Fisher School, a private school in Portland.

School district attorney Peter Mersereau plans to contest those injuries and allegations.

'The district intends to defend itself,' he added.

The district alleges that Rhodes' injuries were caused in part by his own negligence in 'failing to maintain a proper lookout for his own safety during the game.'

It also states that Rhodes signed a medical consent and release of liability form in order to play in the game, thus releasing the district from liability.