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Playing It Safer: Managing Concussion-Litigation Risk In K-12 Athletics


Following a week-long trial in May, an Iowa jury concluded that Bedford High School was negligent in the way it handled a head injury to former high school freshman football player Kacey Strough. The jury awarded Kacey $1 million, which, according to media reports, is the largest recorded verdict in a high school athletics head-injury case. What can your school do to prevent something like this happening to your students and your school?

The Strough Case In A Nutshell
Kacey Strough was a freshman football player with a pre-existing medical condition known as a “cavernous malformation,” which consists of abnormally formed blood vessels in the brain. He suffered a head injury while playing football, but the school allowed him to keep practicing and playing. He also alleged that his teammates engaged in bullying behavior which aggravated his injury, repeatedly throwing footballs at his head.

Eventually Kacey’s brain sustained bleeding as a result, and his subsequent lawsuit claimed that a school nurse was negligent in failing to notify the football coaches of his potential concussion and brain injury. It also claimed the school was negligent in failing to follow up with his grandmother, who was taking care of him, to make sure he was seen by a physician.

According to the lawsuit, these failures ultimately led Kacey to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot near his brainstem. He has permanent injuries and currently uses a wheelchair, facts that likely played a significant role in the million-dollar verdict.

Putting The Verdict In Perspective
Does the Strough litigation and verdict portend storm clouds on the horizon for high school athletics programs? Perhaps, although it bears noting that the number of actual lawsuits in this area remains fairly low and the success rates for students mixed.

With that said, there are almost seven million high school students participating in athletics, and a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicates a 57% increase in emergency room visits for concussions and other traumatic brain injuries by youths aged 19 and younger. Further, the verdict comes on the heels of high-profile concussion litigation against the NCAA and the NFL for football-related injuries, the latter being settled for upwards of $1 billion. Also pending is a recently filed class-action lawsuit against the Illinois High School Athletics Association over its head injury policies.

Given this confluence of astronomical numbers, heightened awareness of brain injury danger, and significant media attention to litigation and settlements, schools should develop a sound plan for promoting athlete safety with a special emphasis on head trauma.

What Does An Athletics Risk-Management Concussion Plan Look Like?
Here are some of the key ingredients of a sound risk-management plan in this area:

For more information, contact the author at or 504.522.3303.


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