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Brain Damaged Russian Boxer's Family Prepares to Sue State of New York

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Last Friday, the family of Russian prizefighter Mogomed Abdusalamov filed notice in the New York Court of Claims that they intend to file a claim against the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) and the State of New York for injuries he sustained in a November 2, 2013 heavyweight bout against Cuban contender Mike Perez at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. The family alleges that the NYSAC, which sanctioned and oversaw the fight, negligently failed to stop the fight and failed to provide adequate medical attention to Abdusalamov during and after the fight, leading to Abdusalamov being placed in a medically-induced coma for weeks after emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot and relieve brain swelling.

Abdusalamov took a severe beating from Perez during the seventh round of the fight between the two previously undefeated heavyweights, which was for Abdusalamov's WBC United States Championship and was televised on HBO. Despite suffering a broken upper jaw and hand, Abdusalamov did not go down and was able finish the 10-round bout, losing the fight and his championship on a unanimous decision. Abdusalamov was examined and released after the fight by NYSAC doctors, but took a cab to the emergency room where it was discovered that he was suffering from a hemorrhage and swelling in his brain.

After emergency surgery, Abdusalamov remained in a coma for more than a month. While he has awoken from the coma, he has not recovered from the severe brain trauma, and doctors do not know whether he will ever be able to speak or walk again. Had he not gone to the emergency room for treatment the night of the fight, doctors say that Abdusalamov likely would not have survived.

The notice filed in the New York Court of Claims, which is a filing required under New York law before filing suit against the government, does not detail the family's factual and legal arguments. However, the filing states that Abdusalamov's injuries resulted from or were exacerbated by the referee's and ring doctor's failure to stop the fight, the NYSAC doctors' medical malpractice is failing to diagnose and treat Abdusalamov's brain hemorrhage, and the NYSAC's failure to send Abdusalamov to the hospital by ambulance, forcing him to take a taxi.

Despite the news made by last year's class settlement in the NFL concussion case, suits for sports injuries are still very difficult cases for plaintiffs to win. Chief among the obstacles is the legal doctrine called "assumption of the risk." Under this doctrine, athletes are held to have voluntarily "assumed the risk" of being injured as part of participating in a sport and therefore generally cannot hold others liable for injuries that result from dangers that are inherent in the sport. However, the family will likely argue that, while head injuries may be an inherent danger of boxing, indifference by the referee and medical malpractice by the ring doctors are not.

Another issue making this case more difficult for the family is that, because they are suing the New York government, the case is governed by the New York Court of Claims Act which, unlike Texas law, does not allow suits against the government to be tried by a jury. Because of the doctrine of "sovereign immunity," states are largely free to place restrictions on when, where, how, and for what they can be sued. Fortunately for Abdusalamov's family, however, New York places far fewer restrictions than Texas on the types of cases in which it can be sued-a suit based on similar facts probably could not be brought against the Texas government, which can generally only be sued for claims involving the operation of a motor vehicle or arising from the "condition or use" of property.

Cases involving sports injuries and claims against the government both present unique challenges to obtaining just compensation, and persons who need to bring such claims would be well advised to seek the advice of an experienced and competent attorney.

If you or someone you know have been wrongfully injured in a sporting event or have been injured due to the fault of a government employee, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

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