Jeremy M. Mattox
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Hopkinsville Football Player Tragically Killed in Equipment Accident

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Jayvon Quarles, a 17-year old football player at Hopkinsville High School, was tragically killed in August when a large piece of heavy football equipment fell on his head in the team’s practice facility. Quarles, who was starting his senior year, had been helping to move equipment when the piece struck his head. He was taken to a medical facility in Nashville, 70 miles from Hopkinsville, where he was pronounced dead, and the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma. The Hopkinsville Police department launched an investigation into the accident. Quarles was the nephew of Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Keith Tandy, who is also a native of Hopkinsville.

This tragic incident brings up questions of who might be liable for losses suffered by a family when a student is injured or killed while participating in a school activity. The Kentucky Supreme Court has held that teachers and staff of a school “assigned to supervise juveniles during school-sponsored curricular or extracurricular activities have a duty to exercise that degree of care that ordinarily prudent teachers or coaches engaged in the supervision of students of like age as the plaintiff would exercise under similar circumstances.” What this means is that, if a teacher, coach, or other staff member does not supervise students with the same amount of care as is usually exhibited by other staff members in similar situations, the student or his family may have a claim for negligent supervision against the school employee.

Things get trickier, however, in pursuing a claim against the board of education overseeing a certain school, or other related organizations such as an athletic association. Kentucky state law provides certain immunities from lawsuits for state organizations, and a county board of education is considered a state organization (and an athletic association may be considered an agent of the board of education, which means it may assert immunity as well), but determining the types of actions for which a state organization may or may not be immune from suit can be a challenging legal analysis. The Kentucky Supreme Court has held that a county board of education can be immune from legal suit when it is engaged in a “function integral to state government” but that it will not necessarily be immune from suit when it is engaged in what is called a “proprietary” function, meaning a function not integral to state government.

The court has held that high school sports can be considered integral functions of state government, for which immunity to lawsuits could apply, but it is important to remember that every case is different, and that there are many situations in which a state organization such as a board of education could be considered liable for an action injuring a student.

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