Former Cal athlete suffers injury, loses insurance, sues school for fraud

- A former University of California Berkeley crew member is suing the university and her former coaches for an injury she said she received during a weight room exercise in 2014.

Madison Stockton was a celebrated water polo player in Southern California, but said UC Berkeley convinced her to join its women’s crew team.

"She was recruited by Cal to be on their crew team, although she had no crew experience, had never rode on the open water, but they showed her around campus and all the benefits she would have as a member of their crew team,” said Stockton’s attorney Elinor Leary with the Veen Firm.

Stockton’s crew career was short lived. According to her lawsuit, Stockton says on September 25, 2014, she was brought into the weight room with her 60 teammates for weight training. Stockton claims one of her coaches, Justin Thompson, told the team to perform dead lifts, but did not demonstrate or supervise the heavy lifts.

"The bar was weighted in September 2014 was about 85 to 90 pounds,” said Leary. “To Maddie [Stockton], who had never done strength and conditioning in high school, she wasn't familiar with the proper technique and had never been demonstrated the proper technique by the coach."

The suit says, the next day Stockton went to crew practice and complained of back pain to Coach Vanessa Tavalero. Stockton alleges she was admonished by Tavalero for injuring herself and was put on a stationary row machine for 60 minutes.

Leary said Stockton sought treatment with the student athlete medical services and outside doctors.

In November 2014, Stockton was cut from the crew team. The lawsuit alleges that head coach Al Acosta told her to “handle [her] injuries on [her] own from now on.”

Leary said Stockton lost her student athlete health insurance and access to medical services provided by Cal Sports Medicine.

"If she became injured as a division one athlete at Cal, they would provide services, doctors, and medical treatment to take care of her and heal,” said Leary. “They didn't do that."

In a phone interview with Stockton, she said she had surgery for a herniated disc and has occasional pain. She left Cal Berkeley and is now enrolled in a Southern California junior college. Stockton is suing the Regents of the University of California and her coaches for negligence, breach of contract, and fraud.

Many college sports require student athletes to weight train. KTVU legal expert Michael Cardoza weighed in on the impact the lawsuit could have on college athletic programs.

"What school has weight trainers that are that qualified? Except for Alabama, and I was shocked to hear the strength coach in Alabama, $600 thousand dollars a year they pay him for their football program,” said Cardoza.

"You know, you can't afford to pay strength coaches that kind of money, so how qualified are they? Who knows? That'll be a big issue in the case, what type of injury, what was her experience in weight lifting, should she have known better to do this, or was it 'I did an exercise and I got hurt and I'm hurt you cut me from the team, I'm mad you’re not helping me heal, I'm going to sue you."

University of California Berkeley has not yet responded to the lawsuit. A Cal Athletics spokesperson, Herb Benenson, provided this statement: "The health and safety of our student-athletes is of paramount concern. We are reviewing the lawsuit and will reserve further comment at this time."

A copy of the lawsuit can be read here

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