Rensing v. Indiana State University Bd. of Trustees, No. 2-680A206

Docket NºNo. 2-680A206
Citation437 N.E.2d 78
Case DateJune 16, 1982
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 78

437 N.E.2d 78
5 Ed. Law Rep. 227
Fred RENSING, Plaintiff-Appellant,
No. 2-680A206.
Court of Appeals of Indiana,
Fourth District.
June 16, 1982.

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James L. Crawford, Sacopulos, Crawford & Johnson, Terre Haute, for plaintiff-appellant.

James E. Sullivan, Cox, Zwerner, Gambill & Sullivan, Terre Haute, for defendants-appellees.

MILLER, Presiding Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant, Fred W. Rensing, appeals the decision of the full Industrial Board of Indiana (Industrial Board) rejecting his claim for workmen's compensation from the defendant-appellee, the Indiana State University Board of Trustees (Trustees). Rensing, a varsity football player at Indiana State University--Terre Haute (University), was rendered a quadriplegic as a result of an injury occurring on April 24, 1976 during the team's spring football practice. At the time he was injured Rensing was receiving financial aid through a football scholarship awarded by the Trustees. On August 22, 1977 Rensing filed his claim seeking recovery for permanent total disability as well as medical and hospital expenses incurred due to the injury. Rensing's claim was rejected by the Industrial Board's Hearing Member on May 24, 1979, after which Rensing appealed to this Court challenging the Industrial Board's conclusion of law that an employer-employee relationship did not exist between Rensing and the Trustees and, therefore, he was not entitled to benefits under Indiana's Workmen's Compensation Act, Ind.Code 22-3-1-1 et seq. 1

For the reasons stated below, we reverse the Industrial Board's decision and remand this cause to it for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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The undisputed testimony reveals the Trustees, through their agent Thomas Harp (the University's Head Football Coach), on February 4, 1974 offered Rensing a scholarship or "educational grant" to play football at the University. In essence, the financial aid agreement, 2 which was renewable each year for a total of four years provided that in return for Rensing's active participation in football competition he would receive free tuition, room, board, laboratory fees, a book allowance, tutoring and a limited number of football tickets per game for family and friends. The "agreement" provided, inter alia, the aid would continue even if Rensing suffered an injury during supervised play which would make it inadvisable, in the opinion of the doctor-director of the student health service, "to continue to participate," although in that event the University would require other assistance to the extent of his ability.

The trustees extended this scholarship to Rensing for the 1974-75 academic year in the form of a "Tender of Financial Assistance. 3 Rensing accepted the Trustees' first

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tender and signed it (as did his parents) on April 29, 1974. At the end of Rensing's first academic year the Trustees' extended a second "Tender of Financial Assistance" 4 for the 1975-76 academic year, which tender was substantially the same as the first and provided the same financial assistance to Rensing for his continued participation in the University's football program. Rensing and his father signed this second tender on June 24, 1975. It is not contested the monetary value of this assistance to Rensing for the 1975-76 academic year was $2,374, and that the "scholarship" was in effect when Rensing's injuries occurred.

According to Dr. Richard G. Landini, President of the University, it offered various grants to prospective students based on their respective athletic or scholastic talents. The basis for awarding an athletic scholarship was a recommendation by the University's Athletic Director (based upon the advice of the head coach and his assistants) made to Dr. Landini. In turn Dr. Landini forwarded the recommendations to the Trustees who then officially acted upon the recommendation. Dr. Landini emphasized that ultimate responsibility for awarding any scholarship rested with the Trustees. Significantly, Dr. Landini acknowledged that the University's increase in its student enrollment was attributable (to some degree) to the success of its athletic programs and that one justification for an athletic scholarship program was that such a program benefited the whole University.

Rensing testified he suffered a knee injury during his first year (1974-75) of competition which prevented him from actively participating in the football program, during which time he continued to receive his scholarship as well as free treatment for his knee injury. The only requirement imposed by the Trustees (through Coach Harp) upon Rensing was attendance at his classes and reporting daily to the football stadium for free whirlpool and ultrasonic treatments for his injured knee. Although the Trustees (through Coach Harp) did not require Rensing to assist the coaching staff in conducting the football program in order to fulfill his obligations under the financial assistance agreement (either after his knee injury

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or the accident causing his quadriplegia), the uncontradicted evidence demonstrated Coach Harp could have required Rensing to assist the football coaches. As noted above, the financial aid agreement provided that in the event of an injury of such severity that it prevented continued athletic participation, "Indiana State University will ask you to assist in the conduct of the athletic program within the limits of your physical capabilities" in order to continue receiving aid. The sole assistance actually asked of Rensing was to entertain prospective football recruits when they visited the University's Terre Haute campus.

During the 1975 football season Rensing participated on the University's football team. In the spring of 1976 he partook in the team's annual three week spring practice when, on April 24, he was injured while he tackled a teammate during a punting drill. Coach Harp described the accident as follows:

"We were working on punt coverage and Fred was covering a punt. The ball was caught right at the time Fred arrived at that point, and in attempting to make the tackle, hit with his head the shoulder pad of the receiver, ...., and went under and sustained the injury."

Harp further described this particular play as a "severe tackle, it was one that you heard very seldom, it was heard all over the [football] stadium and [was] observed by the entire squad as a very hard tackle, [a] very hard hit."

The specific injury suffered by Rensing was a fractured dislocation of the cervical spine at the level of 4-5 vertebrae. Rensing's initial treatment consisted of traction and eventually a spinal fusion. During this period he developed pneumonia for which he had to have a tracheostomy. Eventually, Rensing was transferred to the Rehabilitation Department of the Barnes Hospital complex in St. Louis. According to Rensing's doctor at Barnes Hospital, one Franz U. Steinberg, Rensing's paralysis was caused by the April 24, 1976 football injury leaving him 95-100% disabled. The undisputed testimony revealed Rensing's expenses for medical care and treatment totaled $120,449.26, some of which amount was paid by the University's insurer.

After reviewing the above evidence received at hearings on February 15 and 16, 1979, the Industrial Board's Hearing Member issued his findings and award as follow:

"BE IT REMEMBERED that pursuant to notice fixing the time and place therefor, the above-captioned cause was set for hearing before Mr. Richard J. Cronin, Member of the Industrial Board of Indiana, in the Civil Defense Meeting Room in the City Hall at Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana, on February 15 and February 16, 1979, at 9:00 o'clock a. m., on plaintiff's Form 9 Application for the Adjustment of Claim for Compensation, filed on the 22nd day of August, 1977.

Plaintiff appeared in person and also appeared by his attorney, Mr. James L. Crawford, Terre Haute, Defendant appeared by its attorney, Mr. James E. Sullivan, Terre Haute, Indiana.

"COMES now the Plaintiff, by and through his attorney, Mr. James L. Crawford, and makes oral motion to amend Plaintiff's Form 9 Application as to the name of the Defendant from The State of Indiana, Indiana State University, The Board of Trustees of Indiana State University to Indiana State University Board of Trustees and to dismiss Plaintiff's Form 9 Application as to the other named Defendants, leaving the only Defendant in this cause as Indiana State University Board of Trustees, to which oral motion to amend Counsel for Defendant has no objection and the Hearing Member now finds that said oral motion should be and the same is hereby granted.

Said Hearing Member, having heard the oral stipulation by the parties of part of the facts in said cause, having heard the evidence, having read the medical deposition of Dr. Franz U. Steinberg, taken on behalf of Plaintiff, filed with Industrial Board of Indiana on September 14, 1978, and having examined the entire file in said cause and being duly advised in the premises therein, now finds:

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"That on the 24th day of April, 1976, the Plaintiff herein sustained personal injury by reason of an accident arising out of and in the course of his participating as a football player for the Defendant in a Spring football practice scrimmage; that Plaintiff's said accidental injury consisted of a fracture dislocation of the cervical spine at the 4-5 vertebrae, resulting in a permanent total disability to Plaintiff's body as a whole.

It is further found that on April 24, 1976 at the time of Plaintiff's said accidental injury, Plaintiff was not in the employ of the Defendant herein; that the relationship of employer-employee within the meaning of the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act [IC 22-3-1-1 et seq. ] is contractual in character; that the relationship of the employer-employee always arises out of a contract, either express or implied;...

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2 cases
  • Rensing v. Indiana State University Bd. of Trustees, 283S45
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • February 9, 1983 the Trustees was also within the coverage of the statute. Rensing v. Indiana State University Board of Trustees, (1982) Ind.App., 437 N.E.2d 78 (Young, J., We now grant transfer and reverse. The opinion and decision of the Court of Appeals are hereby vacated, and plaintiff's petition to ......
  • Coleman v. Western Michigan University, Docket No. 61388
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • July 6, 1983 [125 MICHAPP 44] player's eligibility for workers' compensation benefits. Rensing v. Indiana State University Bd. of Trustees, 437 N.E.2d 78 (Ind.App.1982). In Rensing, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that a college scholarship football player who had been rendered a quadriplegi......

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