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Family of paralyzed Wilson player contemplates lawsuit

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The family of Shykem “Shaka” Lawrence – the Woodrow Wilson High football player who was paralyzed in an Aug. 25 scrimmage – has asked a Michigan lawyer to investigate whether a suit can be filed in the matter.

Lawrence, whose high school is in Camden, was paralyzed while making a tackle at Eastern High in Voorhees, Camden County. He is at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia.

Ron Gilbert, a lawyer who specializes in spinal-cord injury cases throughout the country, said Lawrence’s grandmother, Vivian Sims, had contacted him. Gilbert has been making inquiries at Wilson and Eastern.

In a phone interview yesterday from his office in Fenton, Mich., Gilbert said he had been unable to acquire the helmet Lawrence was wearing when the injury occurred or video of the injury.

“Right now, we’re trying to get information, but it’s like pulling teeth,” he said.

Gilbert said he had represented more than 300 clients who were either quadriplegics or paraplegics. He said his firm was looking into “possible legal action against the helmet manufacturer and the supervision” of the scrimmage at Eastern.

Harvey Johnson, an attorney for the Camden School District, said: “Everyone from both schools was as responsive as they could be, as far as the treatment on the field. It was just one of those unfortunate things where the angle of the tackle caused the injury – something that was a one-in-a-million thing.”

Eastern athletic director Phil Smart referred legal questions to superintendent Harold Melleby, who did not return a phone call.

In November, Gilbert visited Lawrence at Magee.

“I was there to comfort him. I wasn’t there to question him about what happened in the football game,” Gilbert said. “I just wanted to meet him and his mother so we were comfortable with each other and could help each other in any way.”

Lawrence, who turned 18 on Jan. 7, is connected to a Ventilator; he is paralyzed from the neck down. If a lawsuit is filed, “we’ll be trying to get an economic recovery and set up a special-needs trust to take care of his future,” Gilbert said. “He has a pretty high-level injury.”

Gilbert said he would not bill the Lawrence family “unless there is a recovery” of money.

Stanley Ash, Wilson’s athletic director at the time of Lawrence’s injury, said Gilbert asked to inspect Lawrence’s helmet. Ash said he gave the helmet to Johnson, the school district’s attorney. Johnson said Gilbert “can come out and look at it if he wants.”

Gilbert said Eastern had a tape of the scrimmage that he had been unable to obtain. He said he had received Lawrence’s medical records from Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where Lawrence was treated before being transferred to Magee on Sept. 30.

Lawrence, a senior safety who is one of six children, suffered the injury in the upper part of the spine known as the C-3 region.

According to Johnson, the school district’s insurance policy is paying for Lawrence’s medical bills. He said he did not know the amount of the coverage.

By Sam Carchidi
Inquirer Staff Writer

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