Golf and the Law: Family of Autistic Teenager Killed in Golf Cart Crash Receives $7.5 Million Settlement

Oct 23, 2020

Today’s post continues Coffman Law’s “Golf and the Law” blog series, which focuses on the sport’s litigious nature by analyzing a variety of golf-related legal issues. In prior posts, our blog has covered a race discrimination lawsuit filed against a Pennsylvania golf course and the lawsuit against Tiger Woods and his caddie after a failed “selfie” attempt. Today, our post discusses the tragic story of Emmanuel Perez, an autistic teenager who was killed while driving a golf cart in California. The blog first describes the incident and the Perez family’s subsequent lawsuit, which eventually settled for $7.5 million. The blog then concludes with a brief set of tips for readers on what steps to take following a golf-related injury.

The Injury and Subsequent Medical Treatment

At the time of his death, Emmanuel (“Manny”) Perez, a 15-year-old autistic boy from Orange, California, was a freshman at El Modena High School. According to Perez’s family, he was a “gentle, happy boy with the mental capacity of a 3-to-5-year-old child.” Perez attended special education courses at El Modena High School, and as part of this program, he was to be accompanied by two aides at all times. However, it has been fiercely disputed whether Perez’s aides were present at the time of the golf cart crash that ended his life.

On September 9, 2019, Perez was outside of El Modena High School in between classes when he approached one the school’s golf carts. The cart was idle at the moment, but the keys had been left in the ignition. At this point, the narrative differs between the Perez family and Orange Unified School District. According to a statement issued by the School District, “[a]t no time was Manny left unattended.” The School District maintains that Perez ran ahead of his aides and accelerated the golf cart while the aides pleaded with him to exit the cart (pursuant to the school’s policy of not touching the children).

On the other side, Perez’s mother, Micaela Sanchez Corona, said that she received conflicting reports regarding whether Perez was accompanied by his aides at the time of the crash. Corona claimed that school employees both failed to properly supervise her son and failed to seek medical treatment in a timely manner. Regardless of the circumstances, though, the result of Perez entering the golf cart was tragic – Perez accelerated the cart into a steel beam and suffered fatal injuries. At the moment, school officials reported that Perez was not bleeding and only complained about stomach pain. However, after being examined by the nurse, the school called 911 and had Perez transported to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Perez died of severe chest and abdominal trauma shortly thereafter.

Collection of Evidence

About two months after Perez’s death, his mother filed a lawsuit against Orange Unified School District in California state court. Michael Sanchez Corona’s complaint labels her son’s death as a “senseless tragedy [that] resulted from the district’s negligence in not only failing to properly supervise and control Manny but also failing to secure and disable the golf cart before Manny…was able to get inside.” The case asserts two causes of action against the School District: (1) negligence in failing to uphold its duty of care towards Perez; and (2) negligent hiring/retention/supervision/training in employing the individuals who allegedly allowed Perez to drive the golf cart. Corona’s complaint sought an unspecified amount of monetary damages.

Orange Unified School District responded to the complaint but never attempted to dismiss Corona’s claims. The parties proceeded through initial discovery and conducted a few depositions, but by September 14, 2020, the parties had reached a settlement agreement. According to a post by Corona’s attorneys, the settlement award provided $7,500,000 to Perez’s mother. Additionally, as a part of the settlement agreement, the School District agreed to adjust its internal policies, conduct an evaluation of all golf carts in the district, and implement an annual golf cart training program for employees. The settlement agreement also established that El Modena High School would place a bench honoring Manny Perez in its campus garden.

Attorney Consultation and Investigation

As the fatal case of Manny Perez demonstrated, golf carts can create dangerous situations for the driver and any passengers in the cart. However, golf carts are only one aspect of golf that could lead to a lawsuit. For instance, errant golf balls, unmarked hazards on the course, and excessive alcohol consumption during a round could all result in high-stakes legal battles. If you are injured on the golf course, there are a few steps you can take to help maximize your potential legal claim. While the appropriate course of action depends on the exact circumstances of the injury, victims should generally remember to:

  • Seek immediate medical attention. Your health is always the top priority, and medical treatment is also an essential component of every personal injury case. Therefore, it is important to not only seek immediate medical treatment after your injury but also to follow your doctor’s advice and attend as many medical appointments as necessary.
  • Take pictures and videos. Images of the accident scene can be a very helpful piece of evidence for virtually all types of personal injury cases. If possible, you should take pictures and videos of all relevant surroundings near the scene of your accident. Relevant visuals could include your injuries, the area of the course where the injury occurred, or any other condition that may have factored into the injury.
  • Document everything. As your case progress, it is vital to keep copies of all documents related to your case. A prime example is medical documentation, which can serve as confirmation of the extent of your injuries and the treatment you received. Other pertinent documents could include accident reports, any reports prepared by law enforcement, or witness statements.
  • Contact an experienced attorney. Contacting an experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand the nuances and scope of your potential claim. Attorneys with knowledge and first-hand experience working on golf-related cases – such as the personal injury experts at Coffman Law – can typically provide a free consultation to discuss the potential of your case.

If any readers find themselves in a golf-related legal battle, do not hesitate to reach out to Coffman Law. Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman is a lifelong golf fanatic and former collegiate golfer who knows the game and its operations inside and out. Click HERE to contact our office for a free consultation.

About Coffman Law Offices, P.C.

Coffman Law is Chicago’s leading personal injury law firm and is committed to providing superb legal representation for people who are suffering from severe personal injuries or are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to negligence or misconduct. Coffman Law is a results-driven law firm focused on ensuring that clients receive the compassion, attention, and consideration that they need to seek adequate compensation for injuries or loss. The firm is led by Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman, who has dedicated his career to helping accident victims navigate the legal system and obtain compensation for their injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, contact Coffman Law today for a free consultation.