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December 1, 2022

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High school football injury sparks lawsuit over insurance coverage

LaQuan Phillips

Richard Brian

Green Valley High defensive back LaQuan Phillips recovers in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Sunrise Hospital after suffering a bruised spine during a football game against Centennial on Sept. 5, 2008.

LaQuan's Journey

Green Valley High School football player LaQuan Phillips was left temporarily paralyzed after bruising his spine while making a tackle in a game on September 5. Watch as Phillips follows through on the goal he set throughout rehabilitation- walk across the stage at graduation. To follow his full road to recovery, check out this video's related links.

LaQuan Phillips Graduates

Concentrating on last minute touches, fellow classmates help LaQuan Phillips adjust his tassel before he walks on stage Tuesday for the Green Valley High 2009 graduation ceremony at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

Fighting Back

Green Valley defensive back LaQuan Phillips was left temporarily paralyzed after making a tackle in last Friday's game against Centennial. One week later, he's already showing that he's stronger and more determined than ever.

A 2008 injury that left Green Valley High School football player LaQuan Phillips temporarily unable to walk has led to a lawsuit questioning the insurance provided by the Clark County School District for students involved in sports and extracurricular activities.

The senior defensive back was hospitalized after he was injured while making a tackle in a game against Centennial on Sept. 5, 2008.

Suffering from a spine injury, Phillips for sometime was unable to walk but by June 2009 was graduating with his class and walked across the stage with the aid of a cane to receive his diploma.

Attorneys for Phillips in September sued the school district and National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., saying Phillips suffered “serious, debilitating and permanent injuries, including permanent total paralysis of parts of his body.”

The suit said National Union was the underwriting company for an AIG insurance policy issued to the district covering student athletes, cheerleaders and students in non-sports extracurricular activities and providing $2.5 million of coverage.

Attorneys for Phillips said in the suit that he incurred more than $195,000 in medical expenses, which does not include future medical expenses and rehabilitation recommended by his medical providers. This figure also does not include compensation for Phillips’ pain and suffering and/or lost quality of life.

Phillips’ attorneys charged that Phillips made a claim for the available $2.5 million limit under the insurance policy, but the claim was denied by National Union in June 2009.

Attorneys couldn’t be reached for comment on whether the claim was denied in its entirety or whether the policy has covered Phillips’ $195,000 in medical bills.

The lawsuit charged breach of contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, alleging Phillips hasn’t been paid benefits due under the policy.

The suit also charges a violation of the state Unfair Claims Practices Act, alleging “defendant violated (a) fiduciary duty to plaintiff by seeking and interpreting medical evaluations of the plaintiff’s condition in a manner best calculated to deny benefits, and failing to look to facts and interpretations which would enable a finding of coverage.”

The school district was also hit with a claim of negligence for allegedly failing to ensure that a policy purchased for providing catastrophic coverage was structured to cover injuries other than — or less than — total paralysis of a limb or limbs.

In the alternative, the district failed to inform students and parents about the “foreseeable ‘catastrophic’ damages for which the student athlete would not be covered, and the availability of, or option to purchase, insurance which would cover the gaps and shortcomings of the insurance selected by the Clark County School District,” the suit charged.

Both defendants were also accused of “unconscionability” for knowing that students and parents would have no advance knowledge of the policy’s coverages, exclusions and deductibles, but nonetheless defined terms in the policy in “impermissible and unconscionably narrow and restricted ways, resulting in premiums being paid for insurance which would pay no benefit for injuries reasonably understood to be paralyzing or ‘catastrophic,’ thereby creating an illusion of coverage where none existed.”

The suit, filed by attorneys with the Las Vegas law firm Mainor Eglet, seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages.

Attorneys for the insurance company responded to some of the allegations last week, in court papers saying the attorneys for Phillips had “fraudulently” included the school district in the lawsuit.

That argument was made as they transferred the case from Clark County District Court to U.S. District Court, with the federal court having jurisdiction if the dispute is only between Phillips and the insurance company.

The insurance company attorneys, in moving the case to federal court with the consent of the school district, denied the allegations against the school district of negligence and “unconscionability.”

They suggested the school district was not required to provide catastrophic coverage of the type Phillips’ attorneys said should have been provided.

They also suggested the district was not required to inform students and parents of alleged shortcomings in the insurance policy so students and parents could decide whether to buy additional or other insurance.

“Nevada law does not create a duty to act or refrain from acting on the part of the Clark County School District as is alleged in the complaint,” they wrote.

“Absent a duty there can be no breach and a claim for negligence” cannot be sustained, the attorneys wrote.

“Plaintiff’s complaint also fails to state a cause of action against Clark County School District for unconscionability because Nevada law recognizes no such claim under the circumstances alleged,” the attorneys wrote.

The insurance company attorneys haven’t yet responded to all the allegations, so far focusing their efforts on moving the case to federal court.

National Union is represented by attorneys with the law firms Morison & Derewetzky LLP of Las Vegas and Morison Holden Derewetzky & Prough LLP of Walnut Creek, Calif.

Attorneys for Phillips haven’t yet responded to the transfer of the case to federal court.

In their lawsuit, they charged the school district’s responsibilities include “obtaining adequate insurance to cover injuries incurred during extracurricular activities such as football games, baseball games, etc., and fully informing students, parents and guardians regarding policies obtained or available, levels of coverage, exclusions and other pertinent information permitting informed decisions regarding insurance.”

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