Vaulter sues school over injury in practice

A former Robert Vela High School track star sued the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District after fracturing his skull and losing a part of his brain following a pole vaulting accident.

According to the lawsuit filed in June, Nick Larsen was seriously injured preparing for the Region IV meet in April, when he was a senior at Vela High School.

Larsen, 18, earned the 2019 District 31-6A and 31 and 32-6A area pole vaulting championship his senior year.

The suit alleges that on April 24, during an attempt to clear the 14-foot, 6-inch bar during competition, Larsen was “propelled” off the mat and hit his head on the concrete.

“His skull fractured and pushed inward, compressing his brain,” the suit states. “Additionally, a small portion of his brain was severed and lost.

“Nicholas was rushed to the hospital where emergency surgery was performed, ultimately saving his life. A steel plate was inserted into his head to protect his brain.”

The lawsuit, filed June 28, accuses two Edinburg school district employees — Daniel Cantu and Arnuldo Flores Jr. — of negligence resulting in Larsen’s injuries.

The National Federation of State High School Associations requires a clearance of 16 feet, 5 inches from where the pole is planted to the end of the mat, according to the suit. But that distance was only 13 feet, 10 inches on April 24.

Cantu and Flores both claim immunity, invoking chapter 22.0511 of the Texas Education Code, which indicates a school district employee is not liable for any incident that happens within the scope of their duties and involves their judgment or discretion. The only exception to that rule is when excessive force is used to discipline a student or when negligence causes bodily injury.

Larsen’s suit argues the Texas Education Code immunity is inapplicable because NFHS regulations are “rigid and mandatory, and there is no place for any person’s judgment or discretion in deciding the placement of pole vault mats during any activity governed by UIL rules.”

Larsen also named Illinois-based Litania Sports Group Inc. as a defendant in the suit. The company “designed, manufactured, marketed, and distributed the pole vault mat used by ECISD which was defective in its design and/or manufacture so that the mat propelled the plaintiff off the mat and onto the surrounding concrete,” the suit states.

Larsen’s injury put him in a four-day coma immediately following the accident. Scans showed damage, scarring and hemorrhaging in his brain. It impacted his speech and movement in a portion of his body, according to Larsen’s suit.

The hospital released Larsen May 16 and he returned three days later because of a transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a mini-stroke.

“He has also since suffered two seizures, which he has never experienced in his life prior to this incident,” the document read. “Today, he also has lost feeling to (a) portion of his mouth and has lost his sense of taste.”

Larsen is suing for compensation for past and future medical expenses, physical and mental pain and anguish, lost earning capacity, disfigurement and physical impairment.

The school district, Cantu and Flores deny “each and every” allegation” according to the school district’s filings in response to the suit.

“The school district does not comment on pending litigation,” Edinburg CISD Public Information Officer Romeo Cantu said via email.

Lawyers for the plaintiff and defendants have yet to respond to requests for comment.