A former Alta High basketball player who suffered a brain injury in a fight with an ex-teammate has filed a lawsuit against the teammate, school and district.
Santiago Lake was a 15-year-old on Alta’s sophomore basketball team in 2020 when he was punched in the head during an altercation in the school’s locker room, according to a lawsuit filed last month in Salt Lake’s 3rd District Court.
The lawsuit alleges that the high school and district are to blame for not sufficiently protecting him from the teammate, who the suit claims had a history of violent outbursts on other sports teams.
“The school failed us and failed our son,” Jimmy and Rossina Lake said in a statement provided to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Seeking accountability for such failures is necessary to keep our children safe while participating in school activities. We believe our kids deserve better, and changes have to be made so this doesn’t happen again.”
During a practice after school in January 2020, Lake “encouraged” the teammate to increase his effort, the lawsuit states.
The teammate became “visibly angry” and he “shouted loudly” to meet Lake in the locker room, the lawsuit alleges, which prompted responses from teammates. Once all the players were in the locker room, the teammate repeatedly told Lake to fight him, documents state.
Lake declined and turned away, and that’s when the teammate struck him in the head, according to the lawsuit. Lake started feeling “intense pain in his head,” and eventually went to the hospital. He was diagnosed with “numerous life-altering injuries, including a traumatic brain injury,” according to the suit.
In the years following that January 2020 incident, Lake lost his speech and had to relearn how to walk, his lawyers said. He still suffers with his speech and cognition.
“There are certainly risks that are inherent to participating in sports like tearing your ACL or getting hit in a football game,” said Brian Stewart, one of Lake’s lawyers. “But these kinds of risks, whether it be fights or violence that occurs off the field or outside of the court, are risks that are foreseeable to people who supervise and are responsible for directing kids in their sports.”
The school district did not comment on the lawsuit.
Lake is suing for damages related to past, current and future medical expenses, lost wages, mental and physical pain and anguish, and other difficulties that could occur due to his injuries. There is not yet a specific monetary amount tied to his lawsuit.
“Violence in the schools is a real problem and many times no one is held accountable,” Stewart said. “In this situation, [the teammate] just transferred to another school and immediately played basketball and had essentially no consequences — criminal or in his athletics — at all. None of the coaches or school administrators involved had any consequences either.
“This is uncomfortable for the family to do, but they feel like that holding people accountable is the only way to prompt the kind of change that would make kids safer in these situations.”