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Appeals court bars lawsuit from teens who saw football camp death

Suffolk County police on the athletic field at

Suffolk County police on the athletic field at Sachem High School East in Farmingville, Long Island on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 after an 11th grader was fatally injured. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

An appeals court has ruled that the families of three Sachem High School East football players who saw their teammate suffer a fatal head injury cannot sue the school district.

The decision by the four state Supreme Court justices upends a ruling last December by Suffolk-based state Supreme Court Justice David Reilly. He said litigation against the Sachem Central School District could go forward even though the notice of their intention to sue was seven months past the 90-day deadline for litigants to sue public entities.

Reilly had ruled that the families of the three players whose teammate, Joshua Mileto, 16, was fatally struck by a 400-pound log during an offseason camp at the Farmingville-based district in August 2017, could sue the district.

Mileto, a junior, went to a summer football camp for high school players organized by a parent-run booster group and run by school staff, including Sachem East football coaches.

At the time, Mileto and four players were carrying a log, several hundred pounds in weight, above their heads and shoulders as part of the training exercise. After the log slipped and hit Mileto, the other teens tried to help him as he lay bleeding with a fatal head injury, the plaintiffs' attorney said.

The parents of the three teammates pursued legal action because, they said, the district failed to provide adequate mental health services to the surviving teenagers. But the school district opposed it, claiming the notice of claim wasn't filed within the proper time period. The district also said it had provided adequate counseling services using in-house experts and there was no need to continue services with outside providers.

Sachem school officials declined comment.

The lower court judge had said that, when children are involved, time limits may be relaxed, paving the way temporarily for the parents of Matthew Kmiotek, Nicholas Paolucci and Joseph Udaze Jr. to proceed with their $15 million lawsuit against the district. It  accuses the district of causing severe emotional trauma, partly by failing to provide promised counseling.

But the higher panel based in Manhattan rejected that argument.

“Under the circumstances, the proposed claim against the District is patently meritless,” said the justices, all four of whom – Cheryl E. Chambers, Sheri S. Roman, Jeffrey A. Cohen and Colleen D. Duffy -- concurred in their three-page decision issued Wednesday.

The justices wrote that since the litigants’ children were not related to Mileto, “they have no legally cognizable claim to recover damages for emotional distress they allegedly sustained from witnessing the accident.”

The decision also said that it was not the district’s obligation to provide mental health services beyond what it did provide through practitioners employed by the district.

"The superintendent also noted that the football coaches were reappointed on a yearly basis, and that while two of the coaches were not reappointed, both were still  employed by the District and available to support the players," the decision said.

Kenneth Mollins of Hauppauge, who represents the families of the teammates, could not be reached for comment.

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