A high school baseball coach who was sued by a former player over an injury sustained when the coach told him to slide into third base was found by a jury not to have been negligent or reckless in issuing the order during a 2012 junior varsity game in New Jersey, according to NJ.com.
The jury's decision ended a yearslong legal battle during which coach John Suk's reputation and coaching ability was called into question by the player, Jake Mesar, and his family and legal team.
How it all started
The story begins with an April 2012 junior varsity baseball game between Mesar's team, Bound Brook, and Gill St. Bernard's.
In the second inning, with Bound Brook already up 6-0, Mesar hit a ball to left-center field and tried to stretch the hit to a triple. As he approached third base, Suk told him to slide to try to beat the throw. Mesar rolled over his ankle during the slide attempt, causing a serious break.
The injury was so serious that it required three surgeries, stem cell injections, and even caused doctor's to consider amputation at one point. Although the injury did heal to an extent, Mesar's apparently promising athletic career (he had just made the varsity basketball team) was over at age 15. The injury reportedly had psychological impacts on Mesar as well, causing depression and panic attacks in addition to physical pain.
The lawsuit years later
Although the injury occurred in 2012, the lawsuit didn't begin until 2015, when Suk had already moved on to another school. For a while, it didn't appear that the case was going anywhere, but in May 2018 it began gaining national attention for the uniqueness of the individual situation, and the potential implications on youth sports coaching if Suk lost.
The verdict and aftermath
After years of legal back-and-forth, hours of deposition and testimony, and debate among the jurors, seven out of eight of them agreed that Suk should not be held responsible for Mesar's injury. The legal company representing Suk's former school district incurred about $75,000 in legal fees defending the coach.
Rob Mesar, Jake's father, ended up frustrated that no one would be held accountable for his son's injury.
"You have people just taking the extra $8,000 who don't know what the hell they're doing," Rob Mesar said, according to NJ.com. "Somebody's got to be responsible. Nobody is!"
Meanwhile, Suk was relieved. Both for his personal benefit, and for the survival of youth sports overall.
"It's the end of high school sports," Suk said of what might've happened had he lost the lawsuit. "The coaching profession would be under heavy scrutiny for everything that happens. Coaches are going to have to have insurance like doctors have for malpractice. School districts are not going to want to take the risk of having sports."