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Man Disabled in Football Game Sues for Compensation : Litigation: A quadriplegic injured in a high school game almost nine years ago says a former mayor promised that the city would take care of his needs.

August 30, 1992|DICK WAGNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LYNWOOD — Shawn Powell, a former Lynwood High School football player who became a quadriplegic when he was injured in a game nearly nine years ago, continues his battle to walk again while awaiting a legal decision that could greatly affect his future.

"My entire life is on hold right now," said Powell, 26, referring to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit pending against the City of Lynwood and the Lynwood Unified School District. The case is scheduled for trial Nov. 3 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, although attorneys for the city and school board said they will seek to have the suit dismissed.

Powell, who is represented by Michael J. Piuze, a West Los Angeles attorney, contends in the suit that the city and school district failed to fulfill a promise, allegedly made shortly after his injury, to care for his needs.

The lawsuit also alleges that Powell's spinal injuries were in part caused and worsened as a result of the actions of "inadequately trained personnel mishandling him" as he lay on the field after attempting to make a tackle in a game at Paramount High School on Nov. 10, 1983.

Powell, who has not been able to get around without a wheelchair since the accident, continues to work toward his goal of walking again, which his doctors said in 1984 he would never do.

"I'm getting there; I see it," Powell said in an interview last week. "I have feeling all over. I can balance myself while standing, I can pick up blocks without the aid of a prosthesis, I can push a manual wheelchair and I can do sit-ups and pushups without the assistance of another person. I remember when they told me that even standing would not be realistic, and I do it for four hours."

Powell did not file claims against the city and school board until 1989. Both claims, according to the lawsuit, were denied. The suit states that Powell refrained from filing such claims earlier because he was relying on an oral promise that Louis Thompson, who was then Lynwood mayor, allegedly made to him.

The former player contends that, while a patient at Bellflower Kaiser Hospital shortly after the accident, he was visited by Thompson. He said Thompson promised that "all of (his) future needs would be taken care of" in exchange for his promise not to file a claim or lawsuit against the city and the school district.

But Michael J. Tonsing of Oakland, one of the attorneys defending the city and school district in the case, said that if Thompson made such a promise, he lacked the authority to do so. Thompson died in 1986.

"We intend to very shortly make a motion to dismiss the case," Tonsing said.

Powell, who lives with his grandmother in Lynwood, said in a 1989 interview that his medical support had come from insurance, the Lynwood School District and fund-raisers. Last week he said he will need more extensive rehabilitation and lifelong care. The lawsuit claims the cost of his medical care and other needs exceed $150,000 a year.

Tonsing said an examination of city and school district financial records shows that neither contributed money to Powell.

In recent years, Powell has earned an associate of arts degree from Compton College, formed his own drug-awareness program, lectured at sports clinics and worked as a television intern doing sports commentary. He hopes to pursue a career in broadcasting.

"All I want to do is go on with my life," he said. "Give me a second chance."

The lawsuit was originally filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but it was moved to federal court after Powell contended that his civil rights had been violated.

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