Lacrosse player paralyzed in game sues his NC school and coach, citing safety lapses

The Charlotte Observer

February 19, 2020

Last May in the final period of a high school lacrosse playoff game, Lance Fenderson found himself between a bigger, onrushing opponent and his own team’s goal.

Fenderson held his ground. Just before impact, however, he also lowered his head.

The resulting collision sent the Davidson Day School student crumpling to the turf, his neck broken in three places, the feeling in his legs and arms draining away under the lights.

Ten months after his May 10 injury in the lacrosse game against Asheville School, Fenderson remains paralyzed from the chest down.

This week — in a legal action that targets two of North Carolina’s toniest college-preparatory schools — Fenderson and his parents sued a long list of parties whom they say should have prevented Lance’s injury, including both schools and the opposing player.

“Lance is permanently paralyzed from the chest down and will spend the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair, requiring total care and support,” the lawsuit says. “(His parents) were present throughout Lance’s entire ordeal. They watched in horror as their son was needlessly driven into the ground, changing his life forever.”

Lance Fenderson of Davidson Day School was a varsity lacrosse player left paralyzed by a collision during a game last May. Now he and his family are suing those who they believe could have prevented Lance’s injuries, including his school and his coach. THE FENDERSON FAMILY
The complaint, filed in Mecklenburg County, also names:

▪ Davidson Day’s lacrosse coach and athletic director.

▪ The Asheville School medical trainer who first responded to Fenderson and may have worsened his injury by improperly removing the youth’s helmet, the suit says.

▪ The Asheville player who, they say, unnecessarily collided with Fenderson.

The complaint alleges negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress against all of the defendants, and singles out the former Asheville player for the additional count of willful and wanton conduct.

The Fendersons’ Washington, D.C.-based attorneys have asked for more than $25,000 on each of the counts, along with punitive damages against the Asheville player.

Asked to respond to the complaint, Anthony Sgro, who became head of Asheville School after the Fenderson’s injury, sent condolences.

“Our hearts go out to Mr. Fenderson and his family,” he said in an email to the Observer. “This was such a tragic accident.“

Both Lance Fenderson and his younger brother Luke remain enrolled at Davidson Day.

“We are proud of the way that our school and our community continues to help the Fenderson family as they work through the challenges of Lance’s tragic accident,” Carrie Lott, Davidson Day’s director of marketing and communications, said in an email. “We remain committed to doing all that we can to provide high-quality education in a compassionate and supportive environment.”

After Lance Fenderson’s injury, the parents and supporters of the 500-student private school rallied around the Fenderson family. An exhibition soccer game at the school in late May raised $5,000 toward Lance’s medical expenses, according to WBTV, an Observer news partner. A Gofundme site in Lance Fenderson’s name has raised more than 75 percent of its $150,000 goal.

“It’s such a small community that it hurts like it is one of your kids,” Davidson Day faculty member Mat Saunders said at the time.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, slightly less than 10% of the neck fractures treated in U.S. emergencies rooms are sports-related.

Lacrosse is a fast-paced game played with a hard-rubber ball and webbed wooden or synthetic sticks. Physical contact is an intrinsic part of the sport. Players wear helmets, mouthpieces and protective pads on their arms, shoulders and hands. The American Journal of Sports Medicine says 41 percent of lacrosse injuries result from collisions between players, by far the most frequent cause.

According to the Fendersons, all nine defendants contributed to their son’s catastrophic injury.

Davidson Day, they allege, did not equip Fenderson with a certified helmet or make sure it fit properly, nor did the school hire an adequate number of experienced lacrosse coaches to properly train and protect the players.

School lacrosse coach Kyle McLaughlin, according to the complaint, did not properly train his players to keep their heads up during collisions. Nor, the suit claims, did he match Fenderson with a similarly sized Asheville player or properly substitute, leaving Fenderson exhausted and more susceptible to injury.

The complaint cites the Asheville School for failing to teach its players to avoid targeting opponents. The Asheville player, they allege, recklessly collided with Fenderson, the lawsuit says. “Instead of turning to avoid Lance, (he) lowered his shoulder, accelerated … driving Lance’s (lowered) head into the base of his neck.”

Afterward, according to the complaint, the Asheville player celebrated with his teammates while Fenderson fell to the ground, and did not get up.

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