Injured athlete to get $15 million

By Charles E. Brown | The Seattle Times

The attorney for a former West Seattle High School wrestling standout who suffered a spinal-cord injury in his neck two years ago during a wrestling practice, says a $15 million settlement with the Seattle School District will provide for the injured student’s future.

The settlement will allow Mackenzie “Mac” Clay, who now is a sophomore at Seattle University, “to live a life with dignity and take care of his needs over a lifetime,” said attorney Jack Connelly of a private Tacoma firm. Connelly said the settlement was reached on Wednesday.

School district spokesman David Tucker late Wednesday confirmed the settlement amount and said the bulk of the settlement would be paid by the district’s insurer, Washington Schools Risk Management Pool. Tucker said the district had accounted for $1 million of the settlement in its budget.

“This was a very tragic wrestling accident,” Tucker said Wednesday, reading from a prepared district statement. “We’ve been involved in intense discussions, and the district is in ongoing negotiation,” he said. He did not elaborate.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Clay alleged that he was injured in January 2007 on a single mat negligently used during wrestling-team practice on West Seattle High School’s concrete cafeteria floor. The mat was too small for the number of wrestlers practicing on it, Connelly said. Two other boys fell on Clay while he was wrestling with his practice partner.

Connelly said extra available mats were left on a stand against the cafeteria wall, and alleged in the suit that standard wrestling-safety procedures were not followed. The suit also contended the school’s coaches lacked Washington Interscholastic Activities Association certification at the time.

As a result of the neck injury, Connelly said, Clay, a senior and three-sport letterman at the time, is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair.

Before the accident, Clay was a cellist in the Seattle Youth Symphony. He had played the instrument since age 6.

Clay’s lifetime medical expenses and care needs are projected to come to about $29 million, Connelly said, and he added that over time an invested settlement could cover that. “This settlement should permit his family to be able to pay for necessary attendant care and medical needs.”

After his injury, Clay was out of school several weeks but graduated with his class at the end of the school year as valedictorian. He now shares a Seattle University dorm room with his twin brother, Cameron, when he’s not at his parents’ West Seattle home, Connelly said. The twins’ 20th birthday is Tuesday.