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University of Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban, who has been hailed as one of college football’s great coaches, is in the news again. And no, not over allegations of oversigning, oversigning again, using medical scholarships, or just generally being reviled by LSU fans everywhere. By now, all of you have probably heard about Nick’s daughter Kristen Saban’s alleged altercation with her University of Alabama sorority sister Sarah Grimes, subsequent to which Sarah filed an action in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court seeking damages in tort for assault and battery.
If you haven’t seen the complaint, it’s worth a read. Like many college stories, this one allegedly started with Kristen, Sarah, and friends pregaming with a “power hour” (where the participant drinks a shot of beer every minute for an hour), and a trip to a bar. After leaving the bar, Kristen allegedly became angry and emotional, at least partly over a boy, culminating in Kristen creating a Facebook post while back at her pledge sister’s house saying “No one likes Sarah! Yayyyyy!” When Sarah confronted Kristen later that night, Kristen allegedly punched Sarah in the face repeatedly and pulled her hair, causing severe injuries, including a concussion and deviated septum, that required Sarah to go to the hospital. Subsequently, the University of Alabama’s judicial system took action and ordered Kristen to go to anger management. Sarah declined to prosecute. Though the allegations took place in 2010, Sarah filed suit just recently, asking for no less than $10,000 in damages.
On July 12, Kristen filed her motion to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. There isn’t much to the motion. It is essentially a blanket denial of Sarah’s alleged facts and states standard defenses such as the statute of limitations, contributory negligence, failure to mitigate damages, failure to state a claim, etc. Kristen’s motion is unsupported by analysis of Sarah’s alleged facts; perhaps a hearing on the motion is forthcoming. Even so, Sarah has pleaded her complaint with very specific allegations which may greatly add to the complaint’s ability to survive a motion to dismiss.
The real meat of Kristen’s response can be found in her answer, filed July 18. The answer does not deny that the fight took place, but basically alleges that Sarah started the confrontation, that Kristen was acting in self defense, that the fight was more fair and evenly matched (not merely a one-sided beating on the part of Kristen), and that Sarah’s injuries were either not as severe or stemmed from preexisting medical issues. The answer also alleges a slew of defenses similar to those in the motion to dismiss, and some stemming from Kristen’s factual allegations in the answer.
But why is Sarah suing in the first place? Speaking from personal experience as a former university student, universities today settle many of these incidents in university proceedings, as Sarah has alleged was done here. Furthermore, that Sarah waited two years to bring the civil suit may give some readers pause, indicating that perhaps now Sarah is suing for an easy payout. Unlike many college students who have little to no assets worth recovering for a plaintiff, Kristen may not be judgment proof due to the largess of her father, who is being paid quite handsomely. On the other hand, suing might not have been Sarah’s ideal choice choice at first due to the inherent awkwardness of suing her own sorority sister, daughter of Nick Saban, who led the Crimson Tide to a BCS National Championship victory over LSU this past Fall. She may have declined to press charges for the same reason. Furthermore, Sarah does allege ongoing phsyical injury in her complaint. She may have realized just recently that these injuries will require costly ongoing treatment, prompting her suit now. It is common for plaintiffs to wait as long as they can under the statute of limitations to sue in order to gather evidence.
Even if Kristen feels that the claim has minimal merit or is a merely a nuisance claim, however, a settlement might be her best course of action. If the complaint can survive a motion to dismiss, Kristen will be possibly subject to uncomfortable or invasive discovery, even delving into past embarrassing behavior like underage binge drinking. Furthermore, as the case continues, she will continue to be subjected to media scrutiny of her and her family, especially should the case proceed to trial. Settling could quickly dispose of the issue without further hassle, although the Saban family may lose some pride. It is worth keeping in mind that this case may have already settled outside of court. This case is still in the early stages of litigation, and it is not uncommon for suits involving high-profile figures to be essentially settled out of court before the lawsuit is even filed, though this seems less likely now that Kristen has filed a response. Readers should look out for a forthcoming response to the Kristen’s motion to dismiss, any hearing on the motion, or a settlement announcement.
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