A class action lawsuit targeting how high schools handle football concussions has been filed in Illinois, the first of its kind. The lawyer behind the suit, Joseph Siprut, is the same as behind a similar suit at the college level, reaching a settlement that is currently under review by a judge.
The suit was filed against the Illinois High School Association, but Siprut says that he intends to extend the suit across the country, suing all high school atheletic associations.
CNN reports that the suit complains that IHSA does not "does not mandate specific guidelines or rules on managing student-athlete concussions and head injuries," and "fails to mandate the removal of athletes who have appeared to suffer in practice (as opposed to games)."
The Illinois suit also seeks to require baseline testing of atheletes who have not suffered concussions and to require trained medical personnel to evaluate injuries at games.
Brain damage in high school and college football, as well as in the pros, has become a high-profile issue. Earlier this year, President Obama hosted a summit at the White House, and the recent suicide of an Ohio State football player has sharpened attention on the issue.
As the Cleveland.com editorial board noted, it was the prominence of Ohio State that focused attention on this case: "If (Kosta) Karageorge, 22, had played football for just another school, somewhere in the hinterlands of America, the news of his disappearance and death, sadly, might not have had the same impact."
Class action lawsuits that nibble at the edges are unlikely to solve a very serious health and legal liability problem, Eric Brady said last week in USA Today, reporting on the head injury death of high school football player Damon Janes last year.
"The statistics are damning," Brady said: "Janes is one of eight players last year whose deaths were directly related to high school football, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. This season, five players have died of causes directly related to football, such as head and spine injuries."
Siprut's parallel suit at the college level is currently under review by the judge, who has expressed skepticism about it, CBS Sports reported late last month.
"The settlement establishes a 50-year medical monitoring program for all current and former college athletes in any sport," CBS Sports reported in September, "with $70 million going toward screening for long-term brain damage and $5 million going to research. The NCAA agreed not to oppose attorneys' fees up to $15 million and out-of-pocket expenses up to $750,000 out of the $75 million pot."
Siprut's parallel case at the college level is being contested by some advocates for student atheletes because it provides no compensation or treatment for injured players and includes excessive attorney's fees.
"The players are being sold out for $15 million in legal fees and the NCAA couldn't be happier," Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, told CNN. Huma also argued that the settlement needs to address more risk factors that lead to head trauma.