Sports coaches don’t always have the world’s happiest job. Every coach from the New England Patriots down to the Bullamakanka Netball Club gets castigated by supporters when the team fails to win. And when things go really bad off the sporting field, every decision that lead there may be scrutinised as well.
On 27 December 2014 Kristen Galuardi, a pupil of Trumbull High School in Connecticutt, was engaged in a practice at the Fairfield Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy. It was alleged that the team’s director made two critical decisions in setting up the training. First, one of the team was permitted to train in socks without shoes. Second, the team were practising without spotters. When Galuardi was thrown into the air, her team-mates attempted to catch her. The team-mate wearing socks slipped and Galuardi hit the floor, suffering injuries. She lost consciousness, but (it was alleged) the manager declined to seek medical assistance for her.
Galuardi sued for her injuries. The case settled at the door of the Court for an undisclosed sum. It is always difficult to draw lessons from a case that resolves by agreement rather than judgment; nevertheless, a few points can be made –
The fact that an activity is sporting rather than (say) work-related does not reduce the standard of care on administrators: Wilson v O’Gorman High School (2008).
Coaches should not increase the risks inherent in sports participation, at least outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in teaching or coaching the sport: Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (2014).
Matthew Tirado suffered from severe intellectual disabilities and autism At the age of 17 years, he was 5’9″ tall but weighed only 84 pounds (38 kgs). His 34 year old mother* had (apparently to prevent him stealing food) screwed all of the cupboards closed and locked the refrigerator. So severe were the restrictions that at the end the Connecticut teenager was reduced to foraging in the rubbish for food and to consuming oils and condiments. On 14 February 2017 he died of fatal child abuse syndrome with dehydration and malnutrition. His mother took no steps to secure medical help for him. She was charged with first degree manslaughter.
A person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree when … under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, [s]he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Hartford Superior Court. Her lawyer noted that she was herself intellectually limited and had grown up in circumstances of neglect. Judge Baldini noted that the defendant had “failed to provide her son the basic necessities of life”. Painfully, she observed that “Ms Tirado’s intellectual limitations and becoming a parent at a very young age coupled with her son’s significant cognitive impairments created a perfect storm for Matthew’s untimely death”
Pursuant to a plea agreement the Court sentenced her to 17 years imprisonment, six years of which was suspended, with five years probation.
* Alert readers will note the age difference. Matthew’s mother was impregnated at the age of 15 by then-40 year old Pedro Gomez. In subsequent news reports, Gomez claimed to be upset at Matthew’s fate despite having left the defendant to raise her child as a single mother. My views on that point are not fit to be put in writing.