Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP and Morris, Sullivan & Lemkul LLP Obtain a $46.475 Million Verdict for a Martial Arts Student Catastrophically Injured by Instructor at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club
Following a four-week trial in San Diego County Superior Court, a jury has delivered a landmark $46,475,112.33 verdict in favor of Plaintiff Jack Greener, a beginning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student who suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury while sparring with a Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club instructor who performed a technique on Mr. Greener which rendered him an incomplete quadriplegic. Mr. Greener was represented in the case and at trial by Rahul Ravipudi, Paul Traina, John Shaller, and Trevor Weitzenberg of Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP as well as by co-counsel Shawn D. Morris, Michael Malady, and Christian W. Barton of Morris, Sullivan & Lemkul, LLP. The verdict was rendered on Tuesday, March 28th at the San Diego County Hall of Justice before the Honorable James D. Mangione.
"Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was designed to empower the weak against the strong. In order for the art to continue serving those who need it most, the safety of our students must always remain our top priority," said Rener Gracie, CEO and Head Instructor of Gracie University of Jiu-Jitsu. "This is why, as an ambassador of the art and a member of its founding family, I chose to get involved in this case. This verdict is a step in the right direction."
On November 29, 2018, Mr. Greener was enrolled as a beginner Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club (DMJJC), located in Del Mar, California and operated by defendant Michael Phelps. Classified as a white belt, a novice in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the 23-year-old student began his trainng that day under the direct tutelage of DMJJC instructor, Francisco Iturralde. Following a 10-minute warm-up, a 20-minute instructional period, and a short sparring rotation with another student, Mr. Greener was ultimately paired with 30-year-old instructor Iturralde, a second-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with multiple International Championship titles whose nickname "Sinistro" translates from Portuguese to "Sinister" in English.
While practicing with Iturralde, Mr. Greener was placed in the turtle position -- a position where a person is balled up on all fours with his face down on the mat. If an opponent is in a turtle position, the goal should be to safely put that person on their side known as "taking the back." Instead, while positioned on top of Mr. Greener, Iturralde crouched on the balls of feet, pinned Mr. Greener to the mat, immobilized Mr. Greener's left arm, and then launched himself up and over his opponent placing his entire bodyweight on Mr. Greener's neck. The extreme force of the maneuver crushed Mr. Greener's cervical vertebrae causing the student to fall limp, paralyzed in all extremities.
Mr. Greener suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of the incident and was hospitalized for months where he was placed on a ventilator, catheterized, and underwent numerous surgeries including an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion of C5 corpectomy, titanium cage, and posterior spinal fusion from C4-C6. He also suffered multiple strokes described as a left vertebral artery dissection with basilar artery thrombosis resulting in embolization of the basilar artery and requiring a left vertebral artery stent.
Due to defendant's conduct which resulted in Mr. Greener's life-changing condition, attorneys filed suit on his behalf claiming Defendants unreasonably increased the risk inherent in the activity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by failing to adhere to the requisite standard of care and sought compensation for Mr. Greener's past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, physical pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, physical impairment, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress.
"At trial, Mr. Iturralde testified that he knew his obligations were to be safe and minimize risk for his white belt student, Jack Greener, and that he failed to do so by attempting a dangerous move without any control over his student or himself," said lead trial attorney and firm partner, Rahul Ravipudi. "Despite these admissions, defense counsel continued to deny responsibility and minimize the harms and losses to Jack Greener who was weeks away from graduating from college and starting his career as a professional surf instructor in Costa Rica. His life as he knew it was taken away from him on November 29, 2018."
The San Diego County jury took two days to deliberate and render their verdict in favor of Plaintiff Mr. Greener, finding defendants 100 percent at fault. In addition to the $637,959 for Plaintiff's loss of past and future earnings and $1,337,153.23 for past medical expenses agreed to by the parties prior to trial, the jury awarded Mr. Greener $8,500,000 for future medical expenses, $11,000,000 for past pain and suffering, and $25,000,000 for future pain and suffering.
Defendants were represented at trial by Robert T. Bergsten and Mary M. Campo, Esq, of Hosp, Gilbert & Bergsten.
Jack Greener v. Michael Phelps d.b.a. Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club, et al
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