“The first-ever:” Illinois high school football player files class-action lawsuit over concussion protocols
(CNN) — The legal fight over head injuries in football has made its way to the high school arena — and is heading to court.
A former Illinois high school football player has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association over concussions protocols and management.
“It’s the first-ever class action filed against a state high school association,” said attorney Joseph Siprut, who filed on behalf of 29-year-old Daniel Bukal.
Siprut also is the attorney who filed the class action against the NCAA over concussions — the one that has reached a preliminary settlement with the NCAA that could change the rules of the college game if it’s approved by a judge.
“Our goal is to bring the fight to the high school level,” Siprut said.
Lawsuits already exist that seek damages from the NCAA and NFL over how concussions are handled in college and pro ball. But neurosurgeons say that adolescent head injuries can be the most damaging, since they happen during a crucial developmental period.
While the high school suit is, right now, only filed in Illinois, Siprut said the goal is to sue every state high school athletic association in the country, changing the rules in each state to make the game safer.
Bukal, who attended Notre Dame College Prep in Illinois from 1999 to 2003, had many concussions during his high school career, the lawsuit said, but was never educated on the effects or the risks.
More than 10 years later, he still suffers from migraines and memory loss, his lawsuit says.
The suit alleges that the IHSA has failed young athletes because it “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).”
It also does not have baseline testing, and does have medical staff with concussion training present at games, the suit says.
A spokesman for IHSA, which is a not-for-profit that regulates high school sports in the state, told CNN Monday that the suit was filed Saturday as the state’s championship games were being played.
The spokesman, Matt Troha, assistant executive director, provided CNN with a statement released on Saturday by IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “We will review the contents of the lawsuit in the coming days and comment if and when it is appropriate,” Hickman said in the statement.
“Student-athlete risk minimization, especially as it relates to concussion management in high school football, is and remains a top priority of the IHSA. We believe that the IHSA, in working with national partners like the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations), has and will continue to be a leader in this area.”
Bringing the legal fight to the high school level was almost inevitable. Similar lawsuits have been filed at the college and pro sport level, but both have met controversy.
The NCAA suit, which is awaiting a judge’s ruling on a $75 million settlement, is opposed by many NCAA critics who say it doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t directly benefit any of the players who have been injured.
The $75 million would go to screening and research and lawyer fees, but not the players.
“The players are being sold out for $15 million in legal fees and the NCAA couldn’t be happier,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association. He says the NCAA settlement didn’t address enough key issues that lead to head trauma, like the number of contact practices each season.
In pro football, an initial $765 million settlement was rejected by a federal judge, and then accepted later when the NFL agreed to put no cap on the monetary awards for thousands of former NFL players who have sued the league over injuries.