On June 15, 2002 — just a week before graduation — Wilton High School senior Brandon White attended a Junior Olympics track meet at Southern Connecticut State University.
He was 1 of the top pole vaulters in the state. But during warmups he fell in the box — the spot where vaulters plant their pole — and broke his back. He’s been paralyzed ever since.
His lawyers — Westporter Wynne Bohonnon and Wynne’s cousin, John Wynne — lived with the case for 7 years. Researching the defendants — USA Track & Field, and USA Track and Field Connecticut, the sport’s governing bodies — they found no reported cases involving pole vaulting.
However, Bohonnon says, 2002 alone saw several catastrophic injuries. Two pole vaulters were killed; 1 was paralyzed. He calls the lack of reported cases “bizarre.”‘
Convinced they would win, the defendants made only 1 offer to settle. Pole vaulting is, after all, an inherently dangerous sport.
But, Bohonnon says, the SCSU runway did not conform to USA Track & Field’s own rules. A batting cage impeded Brandon’s ability to measure his steps. And though regulations required 4 officials at the pole vault event, there were none.
During the 7-year journey, Bohonnon learned a lot about Brandon’s life in a wheelchair. The attorney was stunned to find, in the entire New Haven courthouse, not 1 handicap-accessible bathroom Brandon could use.
This week, the jury awarded Brandon $6.4 million. It is, Bohonnon says, a ground-breaking judgment — the first of its kind against the powerful athletic organization.
The insurance impact on future events could be immense. More importantly, Bohonnon says, greater attention paid to safety resulting from the decision may give every track and field parent a bit more peace of mind.