Betsy Robles-Mayuri v. Connecticut Sports Center and New England Regional Volleyball Association: A Hartford Superior Court jury recently ruled that an amateur volleyball league and host of a tournament were not liable for head and spinal injuries suffered by a female player during a match.
The chain of events leading to the defense verdict began on Dec. 1, 2007 at the Connecticut Sports Center in Woodbridge. Betsy Robles-Mayuri was on an amateur team that came to the facility to play in a competitive tournament for adults. The tournament was among teams in the Yankee Volleyball League.
According for the lawyer for New England Regional Volleyball Association, Eileen R. Becker, of Loughlin Fitzgerald in Wallingford, Robles-Mayuri was playing on a court beside which was a net designed to keep the ball from bouncing onto other courts and disrupting play. The netting, Becker said, was about 15 feet from the out-of-bounds line on Robles-Mayuri’s court. Suspended from the ceiling, the netting hung down all the way to the hardwood floor.
While playing, Robles-Mayuri tripped on the netting and fell to the ground. According to her claim, she struck her head on the floor and was rendered unconscious and temporarily paralyzed.
Robles-Mayuri sued both the volleyball association and the Connecticut Sports Center. She claimed the netting hung so low that it bunched up at the bottom, creating a tripping hazard at floor level. She said it should have been tied up at the bottom and claimed the failure to secure it constituted carelessness and negligence. The plaintiff’s last pretrial demand was $4 million, but no settlement was reached.
The trial, before Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman in Hartford, lasted for more than a week in late May, with seven full days of testimony that included both Robles-Mayuri and her husband, Pedro, who sought damages for a lack of consortium.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs claimed Robles-Mayuri suffered from emotional duress and a loss of sleep. They also claimed she would certainly incur sizable bills for medical care in the future. The jury deliberated for two hours before ruling in the favor of the defense on June 1.
The case ultimately came down to several key points.
Lawyers for the sports center and volleyball association noted how far out of bounds Robles-Mayuri was when she tripped on the net, fell and hit her head. According to testimony, she was running toward the divider net, in pursuit of a shot volleyed by the other team.
The defense lawyers also pointed out that some of Robles-Mayuri’s injuries may have actually been caused by a second fall that took place more than three years after the volleyball tournament, and which she did not report to her doctors. Another critical factor was that Robles-Mayuri was able to return to her job as a financial consultant for Travelers after incurring the initial injuries.
Finally, there was a large amount of conflicting testimony over how much of the divider net was “on the ground,” Becker said.
“We admitted there was some netting that touched the floor,” Becker said, “but this netting was at least 15 feet out of bounds. There was a question of whether anyone should have been playing that far off the court, and if they were playing that far off court, they should have watched what they were doing.” The sports center argued that if the divider netting stopped short of, or right at, floor level, it wouldn’t stop balls from going on the adjacent court.
The defense addressed premises safety through the testimony of Bill Fried, a safety expert who testified that the black mesh netting was intended to protect players from injury, and the Connecticut Sports Center was using the net in a “reasonably safe” manner. “Even though it was touching the floor,” Becker said.
When Robles-Mayuri hit the hardwood floor, she suffered both spinal cord and head injuries. According to the complaint, she also sustained new injuries and aggravated pre-existing problems in her lower back and neck.
As a result of all those injuries, her lawyer, Todd Whitford, of Hartford’s Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald,she suffered pain and weakness in her right arm and a loss of sensation in her fingers. Dr. Daniel Feldman was called upon to testify as an expert for the plaintiffs on pain management. He and Dr. Joel Thirer estimated she had 6 percent permanent partial impairment of her spine.
However, the defense countered, Robles-Mayuri fell a second time, on an icy sidewalk in front of her house, a little over a year ago. They argued that the second accident could have contributed greatly to her injuries and affected her prognosis for long-term recovery.
“There was a serious question as to the cause of the volleyball injuries and her ongoing problems because that subsequent fall,” Becker said.
The evidence presented at trial showed that Robles-Mayuri had stopped receiving treatment for her volleyball injuries a couple of years after the mishap at Connecticut Sports Center, but that after she fell on the ice in February 2011 her doctor visits increased “dramatically,” Becker said.
There was also a great deal of testimony about Robles-Mayuri’s choice to keep working after her volleyball injuries. Although there was evidence that she had, in fact, suffered a traumatic brain injury, there were questions about its severity, given that she was able to work as a senior financial consultant.
She had taken some time off, but eventually returned to her job at Travelers, a position that Becker portrayed as “demanding.”
“Since she had this demanding job, we raised the question, how was she able to do this demanding job if she was injured?” Becker said. “We pointed that out as a defense on the damages.”
Whitford, the Hartford plaintiffs lawyer, did not return a call seeking comment.•