Utah’s Supreme Court says basketball player in LDS ward game can’t sue his competitor over a knee injury

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee, makes a comment during oral arguments in the Utah Supreme Court, Friday, September 16, 2016.

With a well-earned reputation for rough play, basketball games in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses are often referred to as “the brawl that begins with prayer.”

And, in a uniquely Utah ruling, the state’s highest court weighed in on one particular ward game that got out of hand.

The case focused on a knee injury that Judd Nixon suffered during a 2012 church-sponsored game at a Utah County stake center, a regional meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he tried to score against another man, Edward Clay. Utah Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Lee offered this play-by-play:

“Nixon dribbled the ball down the court to take a shot. Clay pursued Nixon to try to contest the shot. As Clay approached Nixon’s right side, he extended his right arm over Nixon’s shoulder to reach for the ball. Nixon came to a ‘jump stop’ at the foul line and began his shooting motion. When Nixon came to this sudden stop, Clay’s arm made contact with Nixon’s right shoulder. Nixon then felt his left knee pop. Both men fell to the ground."

The referee determined that the contact wasn’t intentional and warranted only a common foul.

But Nixon suffered a serious knee injury — and he took his recreational basketball opponent to the courtroom three years later over the injuries. He argued that Clay had tackled him and that his actions were negligent and caused his injury.

A Provo judge, though, granted Clay’s request to dismiss the case, finding that Nixon’s injury was not the result of “willful” or “reckless” conduct, but occurred during foreseeable contact during a game. Nixon appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling, though on a different legal basis.

The high court found that Clay's actions of "reaching in" and "swiping at the ball" are expected during a basketball game, and Clay had "no duty of care to avoid contact that is inherent in the activity."

Clay’s lawyers told FOX 13 that the Utah Supreme Court’s decision was “a win for everyone.”

“The decision means Utahns can play hard at the sports they love without worrying about a potential lawsuit for injuries sustained in competition,” Sadé Turner said in a statement. “We are very pleased the court offered such clear and simple direction.”

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