Paralyzed wrestler, schools settle


Former student at West Seattle High to get $15 million

A former West Seattle High School wrestler who was paralyzed at a practice two years ago was awarded $15 million in a settlement reached Wednesday with Seattle Public Schools.

Mac Clay, then a senior, was at wrestling practice in the school cafeteria when he was driven backward into two wrestlers going in the opposite direction. The accident left him with limited use of his arms and no movement in his fingers and triceps, his attorney said.

At the time, 13 wrestling team members were practicing using one mat on the concrete floor, although there were extra mats nearby, his attorneys said.

“They didn’t follow the normal safety rules,” said one of Clay’s lawyers, Jack Connelly. “The coaches weren’t certified and hadn’t attended safety classes required” by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

The settlement was reached on the deadline day set by attorneys. The payment is covered by the school district’s insurance carrier, but had it been more than $15 million, the difference would have come directly from the district, Connelly said.

“Settlement at this amount also prevented the district from having to use district funds for the settlement,” he said.

Clay was a three-sport athlete. He played golf for three years and was an outfielder on the 2006 Wildcats team that won the Metro championship. During the 2005-06 wrestling season, Clay competed in the 140- and 145-pound weight classes.

The school’s valedictorian, he also was a cellist in the Seattle Youth Symphony.

“This was a very tragic wrestling accident,” Seattle Public Schools spokesman David Tucker said Wednesday. “This case has been a matter of intense litigation. We are currently engaged in ongoing negotiations.”

He did not comment further.

Now a sophomore at Seattle University, where his mother is chairwoman of the Fine Arts Department, Clay is a chemistry major. His twin brother, who also attends the school, assists him.

“One of the hardest things to come to grips with is that it’s permanent — knowing there’s not going to be a time when he can wake up and be healthy again,” Connelly said.

Attorneys project that his lifetime medical expenses and care will cost $29 million.

But Clay is still an athlete. Beginning Friday, he and teammates on the Seattle Slam — the city’s quad rugby team — compete in the Pacific Section Championship playoffs.

Clay, wearing a red jersey and using a wheelchair with a flame insignia, was featured Wednesday on the Web site for Seattle University, which will host the U.S. Quad Rugby Association event this weekend.

“It’s tremendously difficult,” Connelly said. “But he’s doing a tremendous job.”

Last updated March 11, 2009 9:49 p.m. PT