SETTLEMENT : 20-year-old man paralyzed during football game at DeMolay meeting
In March 1984, the young Tony Gatelein, 20, was playing an impromptu game of tackle football when his life was changed forever.
Gatelein and others struck up the game at Torrance Park with members of the DeMolay International youth group. During the course of the game, a 16-year-old player tackled and struck Gatelein in what is described in the game’s rules as a “late hit.”
The blow broke Gatelein’s neck and caused irrecoverable physical damages. The young man was left paralyzed and his ability to sweat was compromised. This has restricted his body’s cooling system which forces him to largely remain indoors at his home.
Gatelein hired Torrance attorney Lawrence Booth of Booth & Koskoff to represent him in a lawsuit against the DeMolay International youth group. Gatelein’s injuries compelled the youth group to ban football games for all of its members across the world. Yet, the plaintiffs argued it came too little, too late.
“To allow people to play tackle football under these conditions where there is no referee, there are no rules and no way of stopping a play…is extremely dangerous,” Booth told reporters in a 1986 interview.
In the negligence lawsuit, Booth argued that De Molay group was negligent in allowing the game to be played without proper equipment or supervision. The group accepted this argument and settled with Gatelein two years after the incident, agreeing to pay $7.5 million over the course of Gatelein’s lifetime.