Student at Jiu Jitsu club is paired with an instructor for sparring and is severely injured.
- Case Name: Jack Greener v. M.Phelps, Inc. d.b.a. Del Mar Jiu Jitsu Club, et al
- Court and Case Number: San Diego Superior Court /37-2020-00041382-CU-PO-CTL
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, March 28, 2023
- Date Action was Filed: Thursday, November 12, 2020
- Type of Case: Negligence
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. James A. Mangione
Plaintiffs: Jack Greener, 27
Defendants: M.Phelps, Inc. dba Del Mar Jiu Jitsu ClubFrancisco Iturralde (instructor)
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $46,475,112.33
- Net Verdict or Award: $46,475,112.33
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
Past medical expenses: $1,337,153.23 (stipulated)
Future medical expenses: $8,500,000
Loss of past and future earnings: $637,959 (stipulated)
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 14 days
- Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP by Rahul Ravipudi, Paul A. Traina, John W. Shaller and Trevor Weitzenberg, Los Angeles.
Morris, Sullivan & Lemkul, LLP by Shawn D. Morris, Michael Malady and Christian Barton, San Diego.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Hosp, Gilbert & Bergsten by Robert T. Bergsten and Mary M. Campo, Pasadena.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Fardad Mobin, M.D., neurosurgery, Beverly Hills.
Lawrence Miller, M.D., physiatry, Santa Monica.
Jan Roughan, R.N., life care planning, Pasadena.
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
N. Neil Brown, M.D., neurosurgery, Colorado Springs, CO.
Thomas L. Hedge, Jr., M.D., physical medicine and rehabilitation, Northridge.
Melissa A. Keddington, R.N., B.S., life care planning.
Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Ricky Sarkisian, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation, Fresno.
Peter Formuzis, Ph.D., economics, Santa Ana.
Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Steve Molina, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation, Santa Ana.
Jubin Merati, Ph.D., economics, Los Angeles.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
On November 29, 2018, plaintiff was enrolled as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club (DMJJC), located in Del Mar. A one-stripe white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the 23-year-old student began his training that day under the direct tutelage of DMJJC instructor, Francisco Iturralde.
Following a 10-minute warm-up, a 20-minute instructional period, and a short sparring rotation with another student, plaintiff was ultimately paired with 26-year-old instructor Iturralde, a second-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with multiple International Championship titles. During their sparring session, Iturralde performed a technique on Mr. Greener which caused Mr. Greener to suffer a spinal cord injury, rendering him an incomplete quadriplegic.
Plaintiff claimed that defendant Francisco Iturralde unreasonably increased the risk to plaintiff over and above those inherent in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring. While sparring with Iturralde, plaintiff was placed in the turtle position -- a position where a person is balled up on all fours with his face down on the mat. If an opponent is in a turtle position, the goal should be to safely put that person on their side, which is known as “taking the back.” Instead, while positioned on top of plaintiff, Iturralde crouched on the balls of his feet, pinned plaintiff to the mat, immobilized plaintiff’s left arm, and then launched himself up and over his opponent, placing his entire body weight on plaintiff’s neck. The extreme force of the maneuver crushed Mr. plaintiff’s cervical vertebrae, causing the student to fall limp, paralyzed in all extremities.
Further, plaintiff was a beginner white belt and the forward-flip back take maneuver that Iturralde was attempting, even if done correctly, is an extremely dangerous technique, which should only be used on a highly experienced and skilled opponent, who has received extensive training on how to properly receive the technique without sustaining crippling injuries.
At trial, Mr. Iturralde admitted that he knew his obligations were to be safe and minimize risk for his white belt student.
Despite these admissions, the defendants continued to deny responsibility and minimize the harms and losses to plaintiff, who, at the time of the incident, was just weeks away from graduating from college and starting his career as a professional surf instructor in Costa Rica.
Defendants Iturralde and Del Mar Jiu Jitsu Club denied that Iturralde was negligent or that he unreasonably increased the risk to plaintiff over and above those inherent in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring. Defendants claimed the maneuver employed by Iturralde was done properly, is generic to the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, commonly used in competition without incident or injury, and is not illegal at any level.
Defendants also claimed that the doctrine of assumption of the risk barred liability because plaintiff assumed the particular risks of harm inherent in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring by choosing to participate.
Defendants further claimed that, contrary to his claims that he was an absolute beginner in the sport of Jiu Jitsu, plaintiff was experienced in the sport, having trained in the sport at two other studios and competed in at least five Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions, including two first place finishes.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Plaintiff suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of the incident and was hospitalized for months where he was placed on a ventilator, catheterized, and underwent numerous surgeries including an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion of C5 corpectomy, titanium cage, and posterior spinal fusion from C4-C6. He also suffered multiple strokes described as a left vertebral artery dissection with basilar artery thrombosis, resulting in embolization of the basilar artery and requiring a left vertebral artery stent.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $1,337,153.23 (stipulated)
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $9,490,153
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $637,959 (stipulated)