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School Lawsuits
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Fall 2002

Not so long ago a high school coach attended a convention where BFS speakers demonstrated plyometric box jumping. After the convention, the coach decided to implement plyometrics in his own program. However, instead of purchasing commercially manufactured plyo boxes, he decided to build them himself. His students did our standard BFS routine plus our recommended leapfrog drill. The head football coach saw the great results and started to use the boxes in his class, which consisted of both athletes and non-athletes.
The athletes in the class were strongly encouraged to use the plyo boxes, while the non-athletes could use them if they so desired. After eight successful training sessions during a month’s time, one of the athletes tripped on the third box (a 19-inch box) and fell into the fourth box. His injuries required several surgeries, with medical bills totaling $11,000. A $180,000 lawsuit was filed against the school and coach.
I was asked to be an expert witness for the school and was sent the depositions of both the coach and the student, who was a sophomore at the time. The original charges of the lawsuit were that plyometrics should not have been used at the high school level, that 19-inch boxes were much too high for high school kids, and that the boy had been subjected to peer pressure since had he not participated in the jumps he would have been humiliated.
The boy’s representatives hired as their expert witness a chairperson in the physical education department of a prestigious Division I football school and a leader in several national physical education organizations. He backed up the plaintiff’s claim that plyo boxes should not be used, that 19-inch boxes were too high and that the boy was a victim of peer pressure.
About a year after the accident, the case made it to court. The plaintiff’s “expert” witness ended up being discredited when it was discovered that he had never coached a plyometric box jump workout and had never seen one in person or on video. Furthermore, the jury got to see the BFS plyometric video in which untrained eighth-grade boys jump on top of a 32-inch box. The jury also saw our women’s video featuring a 13-year-old girl leapfrogging over our BFS 20-inch boxes with ease. Therefore, most of the plaintiff’s original arguments were no longer valid. However, this attorney was very sharp and kept stressing the fact that the school should not have been using homemade boxes; he conjectured that the extra width and length of the school’s boxes were largely responsible for the injury.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury’s decision was split; the boy was awarded $30,000 plus medical expenses. (The boy’s attorney received about $15,000 minus his expenses and
taxes---hardly worth a year’s work.) What lessons are there to learn from this boy’s misfortune? If our intent is to save a few dollars by using inferior equipment, we risk putting lives and careers in jeopardy. The goal of helping our students become bigger, faster and stronger is possible only when we remember to put safety first.

Dr. Greg Shepard being sworn in at trial. He was called in as an expert witness on plyometic box jump training

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