A night out at a high school soccer game in September 2007 ended tragically for the Sanchez family when their baby fell out of her infant carrier, and through a gap between the seat and the floorboard of the stadium bleachers. Baby Sophia fell about 12.5 feet onto the concrete below the bleachers, landing on her head. The school district blamed the family member caring for the infant, arguing that she should never have taken Sophia out of the car seat while high up on the bleachers, or at least, should have strapped her in as soon as she put her back in the carrier.
The Sanchez family, however, knew there was more to the story, and contacted the experienced law firm of Abeyta Nelson Injury Law to help them with the legal aspects of their case. The research conducted by our attorneys on the subject of school injuries, and more specifically, bleacher injuries, revealed that many stadium seating structures are old, outdated, and do not meet today’s safety standards. In 2000, for example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov) released a report citing 19,100 bleacher injuries treated in emergency rooms across the country during 1999. Since that time, there have been thousands of other injuries and fatalities as a result of unsafe seating, and some of these have involved falls through gaps in bleachers.
The CPSC has issued a report recommending that existing bleachers be retrofitted, or closed with construction, so that a four-inch diameter sphere cannot pass through. Had that important safety measure been in place in 2007, Sophia would never have fallen through the bleachers and suffered a catastrophic traumatic brain injury, which will prevent her from ever being able to work or live independently for the rest of her life.
After approximately 30 depositions and a final 10-hour mediation to end this case, a 6-year legal journey has ended for Sophia Sanchez and her family. The $6.9 million settlement represents the largest settlement of a personal injury case in the history of Yakima County. Abeyta Nelson Injury Law has also settled the largest personal injury cases in Kittitas, Grant and Klickitat Counties.
The positive result of this case will allow the Sanchez family to create a special needs trust to maintain Sophia’s eligibility for medical assistance and SSI. The family will also be able to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van for transporting Sophia. Finally, the settlement will allow the family of five to move from a small, two-bedroom apartment, to a comfortable and safe house, and to care for Sophia’s needs for the rest of her life.
Terry Abeyta and David Abeyta, who represented the Sanchez family, have continued their effort to see that these bleachers get fixed. As a result of Sophia’s case the old, unsafe bleachers have been torn down and new, safe bleachers, without gaps, are being built.
“We will continue to work on this to make sure that no other child or their family have to go through the hell that Sophia’s family has endured,” said Terry P. Abeyta of Abeyta Nelson Injury Law.