John Suk, a New Jersey high school baseball coach, has been cleared of liability after being sued by a former player who alleged that he permanently injured his ankle as a result of Suk’s command to slide into base during a game.
According to USA Today, the jury ruled in favor of Suk during his trial last month. The outlet reports that a majority of the jurors believed that Suk, 31, was not intentionally trying to injure the player with the call, which is commonly used in baseball.
In April 2012, according to NJ.com, former Bound Brook High School baseball player Jake Mesar, now 22, slid into third base on Suk’s command during a junior varsity game and immediately suffered an injury to his ankle. Even after multiple surgeries, a doctor said his ankle will never fully recover, and he is no longer able to participate in “high-impact activities” like sports, NJ.com reports.
Besides the physical injury, Mesar also claimed during the trial that he has also suffered bouts of depression and panic attacks since hurting his ankle, according to NJ.com.
“I felt bad for my parents,” he testified, according to NJ.com. “They would never be able to see me play.”
The athlete and his lawyers claimed in the trial that the injury was avoidable, and that Suk told him to slide when he was at an unsafe distance from the base.
“I see Jake approaching third base and I also see the ball traveling in flight,” Suk explained of why he made the call, according to NJ.com. “I make the decision for him to slide, to avoid injury and to avoid contact [with the third baseman], so he could approach the bag safely.”
A verdict in Mesar’s favor could have required the coach to pay a seven figure sum, according to NJ.com. However, a majority of the jurors sided with Suk.
“I don’t think the coach had any intention of hurting the kid when he told him to slide,” juror Lauren Palladino told NJ.com. “It just … happened.”
“How was the coach reckless?” she reportedly told the other jurors. “That’s how you play the game.”
Suk told NJ.com that he believes a guilty verdict would have had a negative impact on high school coaches all over the country.
“It’s the end of high school sports,” he said. “The coaching profession would be under heavy scrutiny for everything that happens. Coaches are going to have to have insurance like doctors have for malpractice. School districts are not going to want to take the risk of having sports.”
An attorney for Mesar did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
An attorney for Suk told PEOPLE in a statement: “The District was convinced from the beginning that John was wrongly portrayed as legally responsible for the injury suffered by Jake. Our primary concern was presenting the aggressive defense that John deserved, and we attended to every detail in doing so. However, there is no denying that there were greater consequences at stake had the verdict gone in favor of the plaintiff. Fortunately that did not occur, and for that we and the District are gratified.”
“John has a great passion for coaching, and this case has weighed on him for a long time, the statement added. “The reality is that essentially any player injury can somehow arguably be traced, directly or indirectly, to some action or inaction of a coach. If there were a threat of second-guessing through lawsuits then it could be very difficult to find people willing to coach, which obviously would harm student athletes throughout the country.”