An Ohio judge has awarded an ex-inmate and his children $4.4 million for paralyzing injuries the man suffered during a prison flag football game that grew increasingly violent.
Eric Schnetz was left a quadriplegic after a collision with another prisoner during the 2004 game, an annual Thanksgiving Day contest, that came while he served a one-year sentence for domestic violence, according to documents filed in the Ohio Court of Claims.
Judge Clark Weaver on Monday ordered the state to pay Schnetz $4.3 million in damages and to pay $80,000 to Schnetz’s three children.
Weaver determined that Schnetz and the children were eligible for twice as much, but he cut the awards in half based on a previous ruling that responsibility for the injury was split directly between Schnetz and the Ohio prison system.
Schnetz knew the rough game was poorly supervised and could have stopped, Weaver wrote Monday. Meanwhile, prison officials should have stopped the contest when it went from a flag football contest, in which players try to pull flags attached to opposing players’ waists, to a tackle football game, Weaver wrote.
The injury happened when Schnetz made a tackle during an annual game between inmates living in two dormitories at the Mansfield Correctional Camp, a minimum-security facility that is part of the Mansfield prison. After he and the other inmate collided, Schnetz landed face down on the ground and said he couldn’t feel his legs, according to Monday’s decision.
The prison system knew a banned game was taking place and should have stopped it, the judge said.
But Schnetz also “failed to use due care for his own safety when he continued to participate in the game after having knowledge that tackle football was being played,” Weaver ruled.
Schnetz, 32, is in a nursing home in Akron but hopes to eventually live in a private home, his attorney, David Sheldon, said Tuesday.
The state will appeal based on the judge’s decision to hold the prison system responsible even though Schnetz willingly played in a game he knew was against prison rules, said Kim Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.
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