Former High School Football Player Sues over Return to Play Decision

Jan 23, 2015

A former high school football player, who allegedly suffered at least two concussions while playing football for Medina (Ohio) High School, has sued the school district and two of the school’s coaches in Medina County Common Pleas Court, claiming they pressured him to continue practicing and playing despite still suffering the effects of a concussion.
The plaintiff, Jonathan Stoddard, is seeking punitive damages, interest accrued on expenses since the alleged injuries, attorney fees and court costs from the defendants.
Stoddard claimed that he suffered the first concussion in practice on August 14, 2012. Afterward, the team’s athletic trainer examined him and allegedly found that he displayed signs of concussion and a neck injury. However, the coaches told him to resume practice a few days later, according to the complaint. Less than a month after the original injury, he suffered another head injury in a football game against Wadsworth High School, while participating on a kickoff return team.
“The plaintiff was dazed and injured, but was not removed from the game,” according to the lawsuit. “Later, when he walked to the sidelines, he was unable to recognize some of his fellow players.”
Stoddard alleged specifically in his lawsuit that the coaches, Dan Sutherland and Michael Zografos, and the school district “created and perpetuated a culture which pressured injured players to return to play by, among other things, insulting the injured players and discouraging other players from supporting them.”
The plaintiff also preemptively sought to “extinguish” any governmental immunity arguments.
“This cause of action is brought against the defendant, a political subdivision, which is vicariously liable for the tortious acts of its employees and/or agents, including but not limited to its coaches, assistant coaches and trainers,” according to the complaint. “Under the Ohio Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act, Revised Code 2744.03(A)(6)(b), an employee of a political subdivision is not immune from liability if his acts or omissions were taken in a wanton or reckless manner.
“The defendant and its employees and agents acted in a wanton or reckless manner by, among other things, failing to exercise any care towards the plaintiff, a minor who had suffered a concussion and was not cleared to resume play, in circumstances in which there was a great probability that harm would result. The conduct of the defendant and its employees and/or agents is characterized by the conscious disregard of or indifference to a known or obvious risk of harm to the plaintiff that was unreasonable under the circumstances and was substantially greater than negligent conduct.
“The defendant and its employees and agents acted with malicious purpose, in bad faith and/or in a wanton or reckless manner, as stated in this Complaint, thereby extinguishing any right to immunity under Ohio Revised Code 2744(A)(6).”
Jim Shields, the district’s director or human resources and legal counsel, told the media that he was “advised” by his “insurance company not to comment” on the litigation.
A mediation hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27 and a jury trial is set for Aug. 11.


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