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Who's to blame? Woman who broke her spine chose not to sue

Lynelle Hamilton broke her spine in her youth without realizing it. In spite of her injury she decided not to sue the high school. Instead, they looked at procedures and made the situation safer.
A young girl practices a cartwheel in a gym. (Getty Images/Don Mason)

Lynelle Hamilton from Port Perry, Ont., offered us her childhood experience from when she broke a part of her spine. Her family decided not to sue the school, but the school implemented changes to their safety procedure anyway.

Listen to Hamilton's interview with Dr. Brain Goldman on safety, youth, and risk management.

Lynelle Hamilton broke her spine in her youth without realizing it. In spite of her injury she decided not to sue the high school. Instead, they looked at procedures and made the situation safer. 3:48

On mitigating risk and her childhood injury 

I think that we've magnified risk and created a concept that we can mitigate all risk, when we cannot. I actually have a little bit of a different perspective on this topic because I broke my back in a high school gym class. I was in gymnastics class doing a handstand, slid on a mat, landed on the base of my neck, was somewhat winded, but went back to class and stayed in school for the rest of the day. It wasn't until that evening that I went to the hospital and found out I had broken my twelfth thoracic vertebrae.

On her lack of legal action and her current life 

This was in Ohio in 1970, and we did not sue the school. In large part, because how do you prove intent, that someone wanted to harm me? How do you prove responsibility? People make mistakes; was it the fault of the janitor who didn't wipe down the mat? Was it the physical education teacher who said you can finish the rest of the class? Or me, for staying in school the rest of the day and walking home? The reality is that we do take risks. At the end of the day, this injury didn't impair my functions significantly.

I know the school board was anxious that we might take legal action and was quite relieved when we didn't. They did re-examine procedures and make sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing after my injury and that's really what matters. I think we often treat this like we do many things, like we can protect everyone from themselves and that's not possible.

I'm 59 now, and I run, I ski, I kayak; I essentially have no limitations. As a 13-year-old, I was petrified, because there were predictions of paralysis and other challenges. And truthfully, none of that came true.

Lynelle Hamilton's comments have been edited and condensed.

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