The families of three football players whose teammate was fatally struck by a 400-pound log during an offseason camp can move forward with plans to sue the Sachem Central School District for allegedly failing to provide adequate mental health services to the teenagers, a judge has ruled.
The families had 90 days after the August 2017 death of Joshua Mileto, 16, to file a notice of claim, the first step in suing a municipality. They instead waited until June, about seven months late, and the district sought to have the case thrown out.
But in his Nov. 30 ruling, State Supreme Court Justice David Reilly cited several reasons for excusing the lateness, including the district’s alleged ongoing actions over the past several months.
“Petitioners maintain, in this regard, that Sachem recently began removing several football coaches from the football team,” taking away the “last source of mental health therapy” for the teenagers, Reilly wrote in his decision.
Late filings are allowed when children are involved, the judge wrote, and in addition, the defendant having the basic facts of the case within the 90 days “can hardly be questioned.”
The ruling paves the way for the parents of Matthew Kmiotek, Nicholas Paolucci and Joseph Udaze Jr. to file a $15 million suit against the district that would accuse it of causing severe emotional trauma, partly by failing to provide promised counseling.
“They are ecstatic,” said the families’ attorney, Kenneth Mollins of Hauppauge, who plans to file suit within the next few months. He said the $15 million would go in part toward providing trauma counseling for the teenagers.
Attorneys for the school district could not be reached Wednesday night, but a spokeswoman said the district does not comment on pending litigation. School board vice president Dorothy Roberts said she could not comment on the ruling but maintained that counseling was made available.
The Sachem East Touchdown Club, a parent-run booster group accused of organizing the football camp and using unsafe training methods, is also named as a defendant. Board vice president Terri Matlat declined to comment.
Mileto, an 11th-grader, and four of his teammates were carrying and running with the log over their heads on the grounds of Sachem High School East, but the log slipped from the players’ hands and struck his head. They tried to help Mileto as he was bleeding and dying, Mollins said.
The families did not file a claim before the deadline because they had expected the district to provide counseling, Mollins said.
“The school kept promising to give these young men help and they kept promising and promising and they didn’t,” he said. “There came a point when the young men and the parents decided they needed to ask the court for help because the school was abandoning them.”
Initially, the district provided some in-house counseling to the teenagers and the football coaches were volunteering time to talk to the football players, Mollins said.
The help dried up even as the teenagers continued having problems with football and life in general, he said: “They’re having night terrors and post-traumatic stress and they’re not sleeping and they’re not eating. All of this is a result of their safety nets being taken away.”
According to the judge’s decision, the district contends it never promised mental health services beyond a certain point and it never pledged to pay for outside therapists. Further, Sachem argued that the families knew by fall 2017 of the limited services the district could provide under education laws, the decision said.
Michael Paolucci, whose son Nicholas, 16, had at one point been meeting weekly with a psychologist, said the family has been struggling as they search for counseling that works and professionals that the teenager can feel comfortable with.
In June, when the three families and Mollins held a news conference, a somber-looking Nicholas told reporters he gets less than three hours of sleep each night. “I just wake up with panic attacks and stuff every night,” the teenager had said.
Michael Paolucci said his son came home from school “in a rage” in October of last year, breaking things in the house. The school had an assembly that day on traumatic head injuries, an event that had been planned long before Mileto was died, the father said.
“I just want some peace for my son,” Michael Paolucci said. “My son is here, thank God. But we need help fixing him.”