Sovereign Immunity Prevails in Case Where Man Sued University After Beating From Football Players

Jun 22, 2018

A Pennsylvania appeals court has affirmed a lower’s ruling that dismissed the claim of a man who suffered serious injuries after he was beaten up by members of the California University of Pennsylvania football team in a 2014 incident.
Plaintiff Lewis Campbell III had sued the university and its athletic director for negligence and institutional negligence, alleging that the defendants’ win-at-all costs mentality brought individuals of questionable character to the program.
The defendants countered with a defense of sovereign immunity, which provides that an entity or employee of the state is shielded from civil liability when acting under the scope of employment, unless one of several exceptions is met.
The plaintiff failed to demonstrate that an exception had been met, according to the trial court.
“In the context of sovereign immunity, it is immaterial that the university is not expressly authorized by statute to establish and maintain athletic programs such as its football team,” it wrote.
“Instead, we must analyze this matter considering the connections between the university and its football team, the university and Dr. Karen Hjerpe (the athletic director) and Dr. Hjerpe and the university’s football team. … It is clear that both the university and Dr. Hjerpe are clothed by sovereign immunity’s protection in this situation.”
In affirming the ruling, that appeals court wrote that “while it can be argued that recruiting high risk players was ‘questionable,’ the act of recruiting players, alone, was certainly within the employment responsibilities of each defendant and was executed in furtherance of the employer’s interest.”


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