Mother sues over child's football death

TAMPA — The mother of an 11-year-old who died two years ago after collapsing during football practice is suing the Tampa Bay Youth Football League, alleging the league's actions caused her son's death.

Jamell Johnson died July 21, 2006, nine days after suffering from heatstroke while working out with the Nuccio Jaguars, the medical examiner said.

Now, a lawsuit filed Friday by attorney Christopher N. Ligori on behalf of client Connie D. Johnson, holds the league responsible, blaming the league and its coaches for failing to ensure Jamell was adequately hydrated and failing to notice signs of heat-related illness in the boy until it was too late.

The league dropped the ball in "ensuring that coaches and athletic directors recognize that the heat and humidity in Florida in July and August are at consistently dangerous levels," the suit says.

The league, Ligori wrote, should have scheduled the practice at a cooler time of year or else taken measure to ensure no child athlete suffered from heat-related illness or dehydration.

Johnson is suing for all damages allowed under Florida's Wrongful Death Act.

Scott Levinson, director of the league, said Friday that while he hadn't seen the legal complaint, he does not believe the league or its coaches were at fault.

"When any child dies, it's a tragedy," he said. "It's a shame, and we feel bad for any family that has to go through that."

But Levinson said volunteer coaches are with players about two hours a day, while parents are responsible round the clock and should be aware of any conditions that might compromise their child's health on the field. He said lawsuits like this are fueled by lawyers out to make money, and they threaten to scare off volunteers.

Reached by phone Friday evening, Connie B. Johnson said she wasn't aware of the contents of the lawsuit.

Days before Jamell died, another child, 12-year-old Bobby Stephens Jr., collapsed similarly on the field and died while practicing with the Progress Village Panthers, creating a stir about the rigor of summer youth practices and physical conditioning.

A Hillsborough County medical examiner ruled Stephens' cause of death to be an extremely rare genetic blood disorder that included the presence of sickle cell trait.

Mother sues over child's football death 07/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 6, 2008 4:13pm]

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