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NFL Punter Blames Turf for Crippling Injury

HOUSTON (CN) - An NFL punter claims in court that he suffered a crippling knee injury playing for the Houston Texans when his foot caught on a seam in the turf at Reliant Stadium.

Brett Hartmann sued the stadium's owner, Harris County Convention & Sports Corp., and its manager SMG in Harris County Court.

"On December 4, 2011, in a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Reliant in Houston, Texas, Hartmann suffered a significant and career-threatening knee injury after a punt during the last minute of the Texans' 17-10 victory," the complaint states.

"Knee injuries of course are not uncommon for professional football players. Such injuries, however, are extremely rare for punters, and even rarer during plays where there is no physical contact.

"Instead, Hartmann suffered his devastating injury when his foot caught in a seam in the grass turf.

"Coach Gary Kubiak was quoted after the game as stating he understood that Hartmann's foot was caught in a seam, and video of the injury conclusively shows this to be correct."

Hartmann tore his anterior cruciate ligament and fractured his fibula on the play.

He says he led all rookie punters when he got hurt, but after two surgeries and "a lengthy and painful rehabilitation" the Texans cut him in August this year.

He blames SMG for installing unsafe grass turf on the field.

"While many simply assume a grass field is a safer field surface, such is not the case at Reliant Stadium," the complaint states. "Inexplicably, rather than letting the grass grow on the field in one 'piece' as it is at most other NFL stadiums utilizing grass, the turf for Reliant Stadium is transported into the stadium in 8'x8' pieces known as 'trays' ('Grass Trays') thus including innumerable seams and uneven partitions.

"In fact it has been reported that the field in Reliant Stadium contains over 1,250 separate Grass Trays.

"Other football stadiums using grass surfaces that are transported in from the outside, such as the stadium in Glendale, Arizona, use a single Grass Tray that is moved in and out of the stadium as a whole, rather than in small pieces.

"Using one single Grass Tray eliminates the hazards of seams and uneven partitions."

Hartmann says high school football games were played on the field the day before his injury.

"Texans' defensive tackle Shaun Cody said after the game that players were complaining about the field being torn up," Hartmann says in the complaint.

"Even more troubling, defendants SMG and HCCSC maintain enough Grass Trays nearby to fill nearly 3 football fields. So why wasn't the torn up turf replaced prior to the Texans-Falcons game?

"During the same game, Texans Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing also suffered injuries to their legs on plays where they were untouched."

Texans were not the only players hurt by the field, Hartmann says: New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker hurt his knee playing on it. (Graph 19)

New England's coach "Three-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick was highly critical of the field surface, saying the 'the turf down there is terrible ... I really think it's one of the worst fields I've seen,'" the complaint states.

"Another critic is former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, also a Super Bowl winner and now an analyst with NBC.

"Dungy has been quoted as stating the Colt 'were definitely concerned about the injury factor' when playing on Reliant's field."

Hartmann says he wanted to continue "to live his dream as an NFL player" after rehab, but several doctors say his knee is still unstable.

"The general consensus is that Hartmann needs additional surgery, possibly quite extensive," the complaint states. "Prior to his injury, Hartmann was the leading rookie punter in the National Football League. Now, as a result of the defendants' negligence and conscious indifference to player safety, Hartmann may never play again."

He seeks damages for negligence from SMG, and for vicarious liability from HCCSC. He also wants lost earnings and his medical bills paid.

Hartmann is represented by Houston attorney Mark Lanier.

Follow @cam_langford
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