In one of the largest civil judgments involving a professional athlete, former D.C. United player Brian Kamler was awarded more than $550,000 by a California judge for injuries received in an exhibition game almost three years ago.
Kamler, who was traded to the Miami Fusion last summer, was seeking $7.3 million in damages from Jake Dancy and the U.S. Soccer Federation stemming from an incident in February 1997. In the second half of United's spring training game against the U.S. under-20 men's national team in Los Angeles, Dancy punched Kamler during a midfield confrontation, breaking seven bones in his cheek and around his left eye.
In a ruling by Judge David O. Carter in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., Kamler was awarded $400,000 for general damages, $85,000 for future economic losses for 10 seasons, $25,000 for past economic losses and other expenses for a total of $554,860.08.
Prior to that decision, Carter granted a USSF motion that the organization should not be held responsible. The USSF, the sport's governing body in this country, oversees all men's and women's national teams and selects players for training camps and games. Kamler's attorneys, Evans Antonelli & Cox of Bethesda, have appealed and expect a ruling in four to six months.
"It's a little bit of a victory, but Brian still has five metal plates in his face," said Ken Neal, Kamler's agent. "I wish I could say it's over, but it's not. We still feel the [USSF] needs to be held accountable for allowing this player on the field."
Dancy, 21--who had pleaded no contest to a felony assault charge in this case in May 1998 and sentenced to five years' probation--could not be reached to comment. Kamler, 27, is on his honeymoon and was unavailable.
USSF spokesman Jim Moorhouse said the federation would not comment on pending legal matters.
Although civil lawsuits stemming from athletic competition are rare, there have been some noteworthy cases.
Rudy Tomjanovich was awarded $3.2 million--it later was reduced out of court to $2 million to avoid an appeal--as a result of a 1977 NBA brawl in which the Los Angeles Lakers' Kermit Washington punched Tomjanovich, breaking his nose, jaw and skull and ending his playing career. Dennis Polonich, of the then-Colorado Rockies' NHL team, was awarded $650,000 after Detroit's Wilf Paiement hit him in the face with his stick during a 1978 game.
The Kamler case is believed to be the first large civil judgment involving soccer players.
After the 1997 incident, Kamler was sidelined for four months. His attorneys had contended that the injuries slowed his development as a professional player and hurt his progress in attempting to earn a regular spot on D.C. United. After playing in only five games during the 1997 season, Kamler, a defender and midfielder, made 22 appearances and 20 starts in 1998 and contributed a goal and four assists.
He was traded to Miami last July as part of a multiplayer deal and became a starting defender for the Fusion.
Dancy played three seasons for MLS's Kansas City Wizards, but was not re-signed last fall despite making a career-high 14 appearances and 10 starts in the 1999 season. He has not played for a USSF-sponsored team since the Kamler incident.