Technical Breakdown of the Expert Witness Rener Gracie and $46 Million Lawsuit

Technical Breakdown of the Expert Witness Rener Gracie and $46 Million Lawsuit

Back on 29 November 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Francisco Iturralde, a 2nd-degree BJJ Black Belt. He was involved in an accident of an unfortunate broken neck injury over his White Belt student Jack Greener during a sparring session at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu. The 23-year-old student suffered significant neck injuries and an instant paralyzed body.

The injuries included limited function of all four limbs, lost sensation from the chest down to the bowel, and bladder incontinence.

Although Jack Greener has recovered significantly and is doing a lot better and can be seen on hiking trails.

According to the Rener Gracie, the whole drama is the result of irresponsible behavior of the insurance companies of the Gym and should be avoided at the start of the matter and it shouldn’t have gone to trial.

This lawsuit was filed in 2018 and has been recently won in the favor of the plaintiff, Jack Greener. Rener Gracie was called an expert witness in front of the jury. He provided his opinion, which instantly caused a stir in the BJJ community. He even made an elaborated Youtube video regarding the lawsuit and his testimony.

Tom DeBlass took his Instagram after watching Rener Gracie’s video and proposed to have a live session with him to make everything clear for the BJJ community.

“Why have a conversation with Rener?

Because the Jiu-Jitsu community deserves to hear it.

Love him or hate him, Rener is exceptionally skilled, well spoken, and successful. We both have a very different approach.I’m 100% positive I can learn from him, I’m 100% positive he can learn from me, I’m 100% positive the entire Jiu-Jitsu community can learn from the both of us.”
(Tom DeBlass)

1. Live Session of Rener and Tom Summed Up

In the insta live session, Tom DeBlass highlighted the importance of minute details of BJJ Back Take from the turtle position. He also praised Rener Gracie on his principal stand on the major issue. Tom was of the view that safety must be the most important thing for a BJJ instructor.

On 14th April 2023, Rener Gracie and Tom DeBlass had an Insta live session about this lawsuit case.

“Rener Gracie made clear that he wasn’t asked by the attorneys to give any opinion about how much money the instructor should be charged. Rener said that he had no idea about the money charges, as it wasn’t disclosed to him.”

The money decided by the court was based on the doctor's verdict regarding the case. It was the general assumption of almost everyone that Rener had done something about that. Tom brought to light the importance of Martial Arts Insurance which was already in the talks. Rener is of the view that the $46 million might be coming from the insurance company, not the school.

1.1. Role of Insurance Companies

Tom was of the view that injuries are common in a sport like Jiu-Jitsu, it is the insurance policies that need to step up their game to make BJJ a more liable sport. Rener told one of the questions asked by the lawyer, “The proper way in which to address this type of move is would you say an experienced artist would do is to tuck one’s head. Correct?”

The judge interjected at this point and said “Mr. Greener did not do anything wrong, his negligence is not something for you to consider so ask another question please.” He told that to the attorney.

1.2. Clark Gracie’s Verdict

From Francisco Iturralde’s side (the defensive side) the expert witness was Clark Gracie,    Rener Gracie’s cousin. When Clark was asked by the court if he would teach the technique in the same way as Francisco Iturralde taught  and his immediate answer was no. Upon asking why, Clark replied that the “seat belt capacity is safer and gives more direction to the technique.”

1.3. Tom DeBlass & Rener Gracie’s Views on the Safety of Techniques

According to Tom, “You should never initiate a technique that you could not stop at any time immediately”. Rener was asked how he could know the safety of the technique. Upon which he replied, “For a technique that I might suspect that the person has not learned or would not be able to receive safely, I don’t proceed with the technique”.

1.4. The Science Behind BJJ Techniques

Many techniques in Jiu-Jitsu do not require the recipient to move because there is an equilibrium in pressure and applied control. In the presence of an expert instructor, there is a safe amount of time for the practitioner to escape the technique and keep himself safe.

1.5. BJJ Back Take

The backtake can become a catastrophic injury because of the low response time and that is why it is inadvisable for an expert to apply it to a beginner. Rener exerted on the reason what made the situation so intensive was that the injury took place in the presence of an expert Black Belt . Now that expert Back Belt had a job to instruct safety techniques during rolling and sparring sessions.  

1.6. Jack Greener Not An Beginner to BJJ

Tom revealed in the live session that Greener was not foreign to BJJ. The White Belt was seen suplexing    in a video and he also participated in various championships, above that he was a varsity wrestler. This stance was made clear in the court by the defense.

Rener made clear in the video that even if Greener wasn’t new to the sport that doesn’t mean that he knew the technique. It is the duty of the instructor to have a complete knowledge of his students’ proficiency.

1.7. Importance of Waiver

Rener Gracie mentioned the importance of a waiver which is signed by the students when they enroll in a BJJ academy. The waiver which was signed by Jack Greener when he enrolled at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu was poorly drafted. And when mentioned in the court, the judge said that it was “not admissible as evidence.”

1.8. Presence of a BJJ Brown Belt in Jury

One of the news disclosed by Rener was that one of the jury members was a BJJ Brown Belt and that is how the case was well understood by the jury and judge.

1.9. Stir Caused By Clark Gracie’s Verdict

Tom highlighted the verdict of Clark Gracie. He said that Clark was supposed to defend the Black Belt instructor rather, he explained that he would never initiate a backtake like that. According to Rener Gracie, this was the point where the whole case went in the favor of Greener.

1.10. Importance of Beginner Classes

In the trial, Clark explained that at his academy, there are 3 classes for beginners which include simple, chaining of techniques and then advanced level. Rener mentioned that his statement was mixed with the words which he himself never said and that is why there were so many theories regarding the lawsuit and lacked basic context and that is why most of them are incorrect in the first place.

1.11. Role of BJJ Academies’ Rules

Rener read his deposition from the trial and made clear that every academy has its own set of rules about the dangerous and safe techniques. It was Rener’s personal opinion that “backtake attacks shouldn’t be taught at beginner level”. He even said “Del Mar can teach whatever they want”, but the only thing that needs to be strong in this case is the insurance policies.

1.12. Accusation so Rener For Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu’s Policy Changes

Rener was accused of the policy changes that occurred at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu which he made clear that the policies were changed two years before Rener’s interference in the case. It was this trial that made the academy refine its classes to enhance safety.

1.13. Impact of Media

Tom described how this online media works. Like people just mend information the way they want and showcase the person as if he is bluffing on the internet. Rener explained that at his school, beginners indulge in new techniques but under the right safety procedure.

In the end of the live session, it was all about the importance of insurance policies and safety procedures taken at the academy.

“I want to start by saying this incident was a tragedy for everyone involved. At no point during the process was I asked to give an opinion on the intent of (the instructor), nor do I have one. I recognize fully that a mistake can be made and there has been no malice intended. I also recognize that it’s possible to make an honest mistake and still be held liable to those that the mistake adversely affected”.
(Rener Gracie)

According to Rener Gracie, this technique, the rolling back take, was shown by Leonardo Vieira and he clearly mentioned the safe side to use it.

“In this incident, the technique that the instructor attempted to do while sparring was a particular type of rolling back-take made famous by Jiu-Jitsu legend Leo Vieira from the turtle position. When applied correctly, this technique directs the recipient of the technique over one of their shoulders or directly over their head but when applied incorrectly, the consequences can be devastating.”
(Rener Gracie)

The BJJ community was shocked and had a mixed reaction to this incident. Some were of the view that it was totally an incident. Joe Rogan also expressed his opinion about the incident.

The videotape of the class came on the scene and was a great shock for everyone. Rener was criticized for being paid $100,000 as an expert witness for the case and some people unfairly accused him of doing this for the money as most expert witnesses are sometimes rightly and in this case wrongly accused.

You might remember this expert witness drama in the Johnny Depp Vs Amber Heard case back in 2022. After the elaborate video explanation and the live insta session, it seemed Rener gave his expert witness testimony with professional knowledge and explained the whole situation in front of the Jury. The Jury included a BJJ Brown Belt and was presented with all the available information with elaborated context. The Jury had the access to the full story but online communities started to form their opinions, published clickbaits, and jumped to conclusions. That irresponsible behavior which is often associated with social media resulted in unnecessary drama and hype

But the online community is filled with people who like to exaggerate for the sake of clicks and they put the blame on Rener and accuse him of biased testimony. But Rener is an excellent communication guy and a salesman. He faced the wrong perceptions and confronted the distorted information with full force and refuted them with logic. He also shared some insights about what exactly happened in the court.

Photo Credit: @RenerGracie & @tomdeblass

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