Richard “Dick” Wertheim (1923 – 1983) was a former tennis player who went on to become a linesman. Unfortunately nicknamed, or perhaps presciently so considering how he died, he suffered a fatal mishap while officiating the 1983 US Open Junior Boys title match between 17-year-old Stefan Edberg of Sweden, and 18-year-old Simon Youl of Australia.
On September 10th, 1983, Wertheim was seated in the official’s chair and officiating at the center line during the Junior Boys’ title match when an errant serve by Edberg smashed a tennis ball directly into the official’s groin. The blow knocked Wertheim backward, causing him to fall off his chair and strike his head on the hardcourt surface below. Knocked unconscious, he was rushed to a hospital but died of injuries five days later.
Edberg, the teenager whose errant serve killed Wertheim, went on to become a tennis star and to hold the world’s number 1 men’s ranking in both singles and doubles but was forever after marked by the tragedy. Throughout his career, he was famous or infamous for almost never smiling, and the unfortunate 1983 Boys Junior title was one of the main reasons for his gloomy demeanor.
Wertheim’s family sued the United States Tennis Association for wrongful death, alleging neglect and failure to exercise a proper duty of care, and sought $2.25 million in damages. They won a $165,000 damages award from a jury, but it was later reversed by New York’s Appellate Division, which held that the tennis ball striking Wertheim’s groin was not the proximate cause of his death.