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San Diego State settles with former Duke men's tennis player for $95,000 after finger injury and amputation

<p>Former men’s tennis player Cale Hammond lost part of his left index finger after climbing a fence at San Diego State to return a ball and placing his hand on a metal gate latch.</p>

Former men’s tennis player Cale Hammond lost part of his left index finger after climbing a fence at San Diego State to return a ball and placing his hand on a metal gate latch.

The wound from one of the strangest athletic injuries in Duke history has finally healed—at least financially.

San Diego State recently settled a lawsuit with former Blue Devil Cale Hammond for $95,000 following a freak injury that occurred during his match at the Aztec Tennis Center in March 2014, the San Diego Reader reported last week. Hammond’s left index finger was ripped off by a broken gate latch after he attempted to climb a fence and make a play on his opponent's overhead smash that looked like it was heading over the fence. A redshirt junior at the time, Hammond returned to practice less than four weeks after the injury, but not before doctors had to amputate the top of his finger.

“I jumped up to get [the ball] and I put my hand on the gate to brace myself,” Hammond told The Chronicle in 2014. “When my body hit the fence, it swung open and my finger was in the wrong place and it got smashed off.... As soon as it happened I knew I broke my finger but that’s all I knew immediately. Then I looked at it when I landed and I saw the bones and the fingertip was gone and then blood started flowing so I called for a doctor.”

Hammond originally filed a lawsuit against San Diego State and the California State University system back in May 2015. According to the San Diego Reader report, the university’s attorneys argued that the university was not liable for Hammond’s injury because he was trying to play a ball during the match that was unplayable and was negligent in trying to play the ball by climbing up the fence.

According to court documents cited in the story, many Aztec coaches and grounds staff were aware of the worn welding on the fences surrounding the tennis courts. During depositions, many San Diego State coaches, including women’s head coach Peter Mattera, admitted to seeing similar structural issues five or 10 times since the center opened in 2005.

After suffering the shocking injury, Hammond was rushed to the emergency room while the tip of his detached finger was put on ice. Doctors realized that they could not reattach the tip without harming Hammond’s nerves, so they amputated a portion of it and shaved over the bone so it could partially regrow.

“If it cut my finger off doing something stupid or dangerous it would be a lot more depressing,” Hammond said shortly after the injury. “The fact that I did it going for a ball, doing what I love—playing tennis—makes it feel like it was supposed to happen.”

After intense physical therapy that included exercises to stimulate the nerve endings of his finger, Hammond returned to the court one month after the injury. Luckily for the Tulsa, Okla., native, the index finger is not a vital part of his game—the left index finger is not heavily utilized by a right-handed player in his backhand swing—and he posted three doubles wins in April 2014.

As a senior in 2015, Hammond posted a 4-2 record in singles play and a 5-3 doubles record. He ultimately left the Duke program with a 42-22 overall doubles record.

Hammond earned his undergraduate degree in sociology and a master’s degree from the Fuqua School of Business. According to his LinkedIn profile, he now lives in Los Angeles, working as a program coordinator for the Tennis Channel. 

The San Diego Reader report also said communications officials from San Diego State declined to comment on whether the collars on the metal gates have been fixed.