The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a court has affirmed a Lawrence County ruling to allow a potentially massive lawsuit that originated from students who incurred concussions while participating in school sporting events. Commonwealth Court judges denied a motion by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) to have the case dismissed.
The PIAA is an association that oversees sports in the more than 500 public school systems and 200 private institutions across the state. They contend they are not liable for injuries that occur during youth sports because of the inherent risk involved in participation.
Judge Robert Simpson's opinion expressed concern regarding how coaches and others in charge are responding to player injuries. At the center of the case are three students in the Pittsburgh area who had concussions, two in football and one in softball. The plaintiffs are looking to expand their suit to a class-action on behalf of many others injured.
The court had four key issues to consider in evaluating this claim:
- What effect does the Safety in Youth Sports Act have on the claim?
- Does “inherent risk” bar this case as a matter of law?
- Does the PIAA have a “duty” according to public policy, which is a necessary component of a claim of negligence?
- Did the plaintiffs state facts indicating causation in accordance with the law
Concussions cause brain damage that has potentially short and long-term consequences. Awareness is fairly high now, especially at all levels of football. Concerns are increasingly being voiced now at the amateur levels. This suit would be unprecedented in how it challenges the system statewide. The suit seeks to address the following concerns:
- That PIAA policies regarding concussions are very insufficient and not effective
- A failure in implementation of testing & detection protocols regarding concussions
- A failure in accurately reporting and tracking incidents (occurrences)
- That medical personnel should be present for concussion concerns during practices, not solely at games
- Whether teachers and other staff are properly educated regarding accommodations for concussion victims
- Whether resources are allocated for professional medical treatment of those potential suffering from or recovering from concussions.
Jonathan Hites sustained a heavy hit to the helmet during a practice, yet was told to continue practicing. He soon after began vomiting and fell unconscious while on the bench. Domenic Teolis endured several massive hits during a practice and a game and has had headaches and been sensitive to noise since. Kaela Zinagro's head hit the ground during a softball game and suffered from dizziness and nausea. Her coach initially was nonchalant about the seriousness of her injuries until a doctor found her to have whiplash and a concussion.
A lawyer representing the injured students explained that there were no qualified medical personnel on hand at practices and seeks to secure funds for those injured to receive medical care and to create funding for more medical training staff. Melissa Mertz, an Associate Director with PIAA, feels that these issues can be resolved by parents and coaches.