Illinois Appeals Court Clarifies Evidentiary Obligation in Lawsuit Against High School Athletic Trainer

footballOne of the biggest issues affecting many sports leagues today, from youth leagues to the big leagues, is concussions and concussion-related safety. Interscholastic sports in Illinois are no exception. A recent case from the First Appellate District Court involving a high school football player from Cook County offers important clarity regarding what is (and is not) required in a student’s injury case.

The student was a star baseball and football player for a Chicago public high school, playing in his team’s game on Oct. 4, 2013. During the game, the student and a teammate ran into each other in a first-quarter collision allegedly so violent it broke one of the other boy’s ribs and ruptured his spleen. The student, unlike his teammate, was allowed to continue playing. Later during the game, the student collapsed on the sideline from a subdural hematoma. The hematoma caused a massive brain injury. The student spent seven months in the hospital. Two years after the game, he communicated by hand squeezes and eye blinks, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The student’s parents sued, alleging that the damage from the boy’s head injury didn’t have to be so severe. Allegedly, the boy suffered several head impacts during the Oct. 4 game, but the people responsible for ensuring student safety didn’t check the boy for a possible brain injury until the fourth quarter of the game. Specifically, the parents sued the company with which Chicago Public Schools contracted to staff CPA football games with “competent personnel… to provide on-site injury care and evaluation,” as well as the company that had a contract with the school to provide athletic trainers for all of the school’s football games.

The lawsuit accused the companies of negligence by virtue of their failure to investigate and tend to the boy’s injuries at an earlier point. The people responsible should have checked the boy out for a concussion in the first quarter, the lawsuit claimed, but instead they permitted him to keep playing into the fourth quarter, thus allowing him to develop numerous brain bleeds as a result of additional hits to the head.

The key issue that went up before the appeals court focused upon exactly which types of proof an injured student-athlete (or their parents) needs in order to pursue a claim against an athletic trainer. The court in this case ruled that the services provided by high school athletic trainers like the ones working during this football game were services that fit within the parameters of medical or “other healing arts.”

What did this mean for the parents? This meant that the negligence claim they were pursuing regarding the trainers’ failure to identify and treat the boy’s brain injury more quickly was required, by Illinois law, to proceed like a medical malpractice claim. This ruling has some clear effects on this case and any other case like it. It means that, in order to proceed, a plaintiff must submit to the trial court an affidavit from a health care professional who must state that they have reviewed the relevant records, prepared a report, and concluded that “there is a reasonable and meritorious cause for filing of such action.”

The court rejected the defense argument that the required report and affidavit must come from a similarly licensed athletic trainer. Instead, the court stated that any “physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches” could submit the affidavit and report.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a school setting because someone didn’t do what they should have, the determined Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck are here to help with your injury case. We have been helping people injured in school, at work, and elsewhere for many years. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Chicago Area High School Student Allowed to Pursue Recovery for Eye Injury in Floor Hockey Game, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, March 29, 2017

Illinois Appeals Court Upholds $2.5M Award Against School For Its Missteps in Student’s Asthma-Related Death, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Dec. 21, 2016