When Beethavean Scottland, a 26-year-old light-heavyweight from North Brentwood, Maryland, was beaten into a coma by George Khalid Jones on June 26, 2001 aboard the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier/war museum dry-docked on the Hudson River, it send shock waves through the New York boxing community. Fingers pointed, tongues wagged, wrists got slapped, the state got a new commissioner, who rearranged the furniture, and it was back to business as usual.
At the time it looked like those who might have been responsible for the boxer’s death got off scot-free.
And now it’s official.
Last week Manhattan Supreme Court, Justice Sherry Klein Heitler dismissed a negligence lawsuit filed by Beethavean Scottland’s widow Denise against the two ringside physicians presiding that night, Drs. Gerard Varlotta and Rufus Sadler. The suit alleges, not unreasonably, that her husband was “unreasonably and violently pummeled” during the fight. But after lawyers for the doctors argued that the suit was alleging medical malpractice, and not medical negligence, and that the statute of limitations for such a claim had expired, the judge agreed and threw the case out of court.
“The court finds,â€? Judge Heitler wrote in Scottland v. Duva Boxing, 109169/04, â€œthe physician defendants were retained as ringside physicians in their capacity as physicians, and they were charged with the duty to exercise reasonable medical care to provide an ongoing medical diagnosis of the boxing participants’ physical condition throughout the match. This holding is consistent with the boxer’s reasonable expectation that a ringside physician will call the match if necessary to protect his or her well-being, as well as attend to any injuries the boxer sustains during the match.”
Scottland’s wife initiated the present action on June 21, 2004, a week short of the third anniversary of the bout. The timing of the filing became crucial, as it fell within the three-year statute of limitation for personal injury claims, but outside the two-and-a-half-year statute for medical malpractice claims.
Separate actions against New York State, the New York State Athletic Commission, and Duva Boxing are ongoing in the Court of Claims, according to an attorney for the plaintiff.
â€œIn sum,â€? concluded Judge Heitler, â€œthe court’s review of the applicable regulations leads it to conclude that the Legislature’s primary purpose in requiring the presence of ringside physicians, in addition to the referee and other personnel, is to ensure the safety of the match participants. In this regard, this case falls outside the rubric of those cited by plaintiff for the proposition that no physician-patient relationship existed between Scottland and defendants. In essence, then, plaintiff’s claims against [the defendants] sound in medical malpractice and have expired under the applicable Statute of Limitations.”
There ought to be a law against paying lawyers in lieu of paying a dead boxer’s widow. Too bad it makes no dollars and sense.