MEDICALLY REVIEWED

Jury Awards $46M to Paralyzed Jiu-Jitsu Student for Spinal Injury in Class, Experts React

jiu-jitsu spinal injury

A San Diego jury has awarded over $46 million to a man who suffered a catastrophic spinal injury during a beginner jiu-jitsu class five years ago. 

Jack Greener, who was 23 years old at the time, was enrolled at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club when he was pinned to the mat by an instructor who placed his entire body weight on Greener’s neck. The maneuver crushed Greener’s cervical vertebrae, causing the student to become paralyzed in all extremities, according to a statement from his law firm.

Compensation for Medical Expenses and Emotional Distress

Greener underwent multiple surgeries and was hospitalized for months. Now a quadriplegic, he sought compensation for medical expenses, loss of earnings and emotional distress. Jurors ruled in Greener’s favor on Tuesday last week after a four-week trial. Attorneys for the martial arts club and the instructor didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Experts React

Jiu-jitsu world champions have weighed in on the verdict, offering their differing thoughts on the incident and its aftermath. Rener Gracie, jiu-jitsu legend, stated that BJJ school owners and instructors have a responsibility to create a safe and structured learning path for every student to learn the art and build their confidence. He also added that this case should serve as a much-needed reminder to the entire industry of the massive responsibility they shoulder every time a new student trusts them to guide them on their jiu-jitsu journey.

Gracie wrote, “As BJJ school owners and instructors, we have a responsibility to create a learning path that is both safe and structured, so that every student can learn the art and build their confidence from day one, without risk of otherwise avoidable catastrophic injury.”

Tom DeBlass, jiu-jitsu world champion, also commented on the incident, expressing his sympathy for both the student and the instructor. He stated that the incident was a tragic freak accident and not done maliciously. DeBlass has also been heavily critical of the testimony provided by Rener Gracie, saying his statement  “made this instructor look terrible,” and offered to vouch for the instructor who he considers well-respected and that this is a freak incident. He also stated this lawsuit has made him reconsider letting students into his gym.

Update: Gracie has since provided further clarification on his stance, and has accepted an invite to have an Instagram Live discussion with Deblass.

Doctor Insights

Dr. Luke Pomerantz, a San-Diego based Jiu-Jitsu black belt and orthopedic surgeon also offered their thoughts on the case, stating that ‘Spinal injuries can be catastrophic. There is an inherent risk in what we do. Even with the best training partners bad things can happen. Be careful. No blame. No politics’.

Dr Alan Cheung, Orthopaedic Surgeon and team doctor for Wrestling Federation of Singapore, provided this insight. ‘Research suggests that martial arts are safer in terms of risk of spinal injury than other high impact sports such as horse riding, diving, and snow sports. I think that this tragic episode was a freak accident. In general injuries can be prevented by warming up properly and being supervised by an instructor when training’, he stated.

Conclusion

This case is a tragic reminder of the importance of proper technique and training in contact sports like jiu-jitsu. While accidents can happen, it is the responsibility of instructors to create a safe learning environment for their students. This verdict highlights the significant risks involved. Subsequently, it shows the need for caution and care when teaching and practicing these sports.

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