Utah Supreme Court: State can't be sued in boxer's death

Updated: December 21, 2007, 6:20 PM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah commission that regulates boxing can't be sued for negligence in the death of a boxer who collapsed in the ring, the state Supreme Court said Friday.

Brad Rone died of an irregular heartbeat in 2003 after collapsing in the first round of a fight in Cedar City against Billy Zumbrun. He was trying to win money to fly to Ohio for his mother's funeral.

Rone's sister, Celeste Moss, claims the Pete Suazo Utah Athletic Commission was negligent in permitting him to enter the ring. He weighed 259 pounds, had high blood pressure and had lost a string of previous fights.

She said Nevada had prohibited Rone from boxing in that state.

But Utah's highest court said the commission performs a governmental function and is immune to the lawsuit, like other agencies. The court said the immunity does not trample the rights of people who want to seek relief in courts.

"Only the government can regulate the sport for the common good, rather than for the benefit of a select financially interested sector of the boxing industry," the court said in a 5-0 decision written by Justice Jill Parrish.

"Only the government may wield its police power to ensure that safety regulations are followed," the court said.

Rone and his mother were buried together in a double funeral.

"He was desperate," attorney Bob Sykes said, referring to Rone's decision to earn money to attend his mother's funeral. "A lot of these boxers are not superstars."

Sykes was disappointed in the court's decision. The allegations against the athletic commission have not been litigated because the case so far has centered solely on whether Moss has a right to sue.

"It would have been nice to bring this case before a jury," Sykes said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press