Judge awards damages to injured soccer player

LIHUE — A judge awarded a former high school soccer star damages in a five-year-old injury case Thursday in 5th Circuit Court.

The week-long civil bench trial in October involved a civil liability complaint brought against the state Department of Education by a former Kapaa High School soccer player, Dakota Barnett, 21, who was seriously injured during a practice at the Kapaa Armory field on Dec. 8, 2008.

Barnett was not in court on Thursday. She is on the Mainland where she is pursuing work in theatre, according to her attorney, William Lawson.

“This was an unfortunate incident,” Lawson said. “The family has no hard feelings and I hope there are no hard feelings on the other side.”

Chief Judge Randal Valenciano ruled the liability in favor of the plaintiff.

He said there is a “fair assessment” to expect that the Department of Education would provide equipment needed for organized sports and prompting a coach to provide his own.

The injury occurred when Barnett was a high school junior and slid against a pole-flag with a steel base plate that was used as a temporary goal in practice.

She suffered a serious laceration to her left knee and claimed it resulted in losing a soccer scholarship from having to withdraw from college.

The court assessed 90 percent of comparative negligence, and 90 percent of damages to the state and general damages were awarded in the amount of $50,000.

A reduction of 10 percent in each was assessed to the plaintiff.

There is evidence to show the victim may have pushed herself too hard to return to playing soccer, despite the approval by doctors, Valenciano said.

Lawson said about $5,000 in legal fees for witness depositions and other costs would also be assessed to general damages. With all the deductions, the total award should come to $44,751.85, he said.

Special damages totaling $5,249.20 for past medical expenses were awarded, while damages for “future medicals” were not.

There is no evidence to show that services are going to be sought by the plaintiff in the form of surgeries or other therapies, Valenciano said.

Barnett played for one season in college and testified that the injury reduced her physical ability to perform at the collegiate and Olympic level she has striven for since she was a child.

State Deputy Attorney General Randolph Slaton centered his case on Barnett’s activity aggravating the injury and that the Department of Education did not act with negligence in setting up the makeshift goal for the practice.

The court did not award general damages. He said that youth and adults are encouraged to pursue their dreams, but that it would be too speculative for the court to find that the victim’s future in soccer was ended by the injury in this case.

Whether in academics or athletics, sometimes exceptional students from Kauai go to the Mainland and it just doesn’t work out for whatever reason, Valenciano said.

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