School and Booster Club Blame Game Over Athlete Death

Lack of risk management leads to costly legal battle

The family of Joshua Mileto is seeking $15 million in damages following his fatal accident on the campus of Sachem East High School in Long Island. The suit names and alleges equal blame to both the school district and school’s booster club.

Mileto, 16, died when a log fell on his head during a summer camp exercise. He and four other players were carrying the 400-lb. log during an off-season football camp drill. The attorney for the Miletos said the suit names both parties because of the vague relationship between the two. The Sachem East Touchdown Club is registered as a nonprofit.

It remains to be seen whether coaches at the camp will also be named in the suit. Apparently, it isn’t clear yet for whom the coaches were working, the school or the booster club. Both entities played a role in running the preseason camp. The Miletos’ attorney stated the drill was too dangerous for boys that age and size.

If the school can prove it didn’t employ the coaches for the purposes of the camp, it may not have any liability, according to Michael Duffy, an attorney not involved in the case.  Michael Kaplen, a law professor a George Washington University, isn’t aware of any cases where a school district tried to shift blame onto a booster club. It would be difficult to do so, he said, because the camp took place on school property. That’s tantamount to a school district endorsement of the camp.

How schools can protect themselves

The New York State Education Department points to section 414 of education law, advising schools to not treat booster clubs as an extension of the district. The law states that the school should establish policies for use of the property that “provide for the safety and security of the pupils.”

At Sadler Insurance, we advise all facility owners, including school districts, to have an agreement clarifying the roles of the facility owner and facility user. This should include insurance requirements and an indemnification/hold harmless provision in favor of the facility owner. For more information, see Insurance for Facility Users of Recreation Departments and Schools.


Source: Jim Baumbach, Michael O’Keeffe. “Sachem East football player lawsuit would look to establish blame,” newsday.com. 09 Sept. 2017.