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Family of Wharton High LB plans to sue school district

TAMPA — The attorney for the Wharton High School football player who was seriously injured before an October practice has taken a formal step toward suing the Hillsborough County school district.

Attorney C. Steven Yerrid sent a letter Friday giving the district six months to resolve the complaint before a lawsuit is formally filed on behalf of Wharton junior Sean McNamee, who fractured his skull in October after hitting his head on a piece of equipment.

That notice is the first step under Florida state laws toward suing a public agency.

"What we can do is stop other families from experiencing this type of tragedy," Yerrid said, "and that's what our intention is going to be."

McNamee, 17, was throwing around a football with teammates Oct. 9 at the school's practice field. After he jumped for a catch, he landed and struck his head on an unattended paint machine used to line the field.

The incident happened during a warmup period before practice formally began, so McNamee was not wearing a helmet. The blow fractured McNamee's skull, caused his brain to swell and caused blood to collect in his head.

According to Yerrid's letter, security camera footage showed that McNamee was evaluated by a trainer, then was left unattended for a 34-minute span. During that time, McNamee left school and drove 4 miles to his home.

During a Monday news conference at his office, Yerrid accused the district of being negligent and cited three reforms he wants to see: Better protocols so equipment isn't left near fields, guidelines for trainers to call for emergency assistance in case of head injuries and a district liability policy that meets state standards.

"How much more of a wakeup call do we need?" Yerrid said.

Hillsborough district spokesman Stephen Hegarty declined to comment about the possible litigation. But he said during the fall that McNamee told the trainer he thought he was fine and that the district's employees acted with McNamee's best interest in mind.

Doctors weren't sure if McNamee would initially survive the accident. They performed emergency surgery on his head, and a large piece of McNamee's skull was removed during surgery and incubated in his abdomen until it could be replaced. He spent nine days in a medically induced coma before waking up.

Yerrid said McNamee has improved greatly since then. He returned to school last week and could resume driving soon.

His motor skills have improved, too, though Yerrid said McNamee will never be the same as he was before the injury.

"He's made a remarkable recovery. …" Yerrid said. "It's going to be a long road back."

Under state law, the most money government agencies can pay for one incident is $300,000, unless the Legislature approves a higher figure.

Staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Family of Wharton High LB plans to sue school district 02/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 11:20pm]
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