A former high school football star has filed a lawsuit in Oregon state court, alleging that his coach and other individual defendants encouraged him to play football even though they were aware that he exhibited lingering symptoms of concussion.
Plaintiff Jonathan Boland was a star football player at Parkrose High School, who was offered an athletic scholarship to Portland State University. Shortly into his college career, he retired from football, citing the effects of multiple concussions. Two days later, Boland committed a string of robberies for which he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to seven and half years in jail.
Boland’s journey was well-chronicled in the media over the last few years. His mother, Renee Boland said in March 2018 that she had no interest in suing Parkrose. However, Boland asked the district for records relating to her son’s concussions in January 2019. This started a chain of events that led to the March 18 filing of a negligence lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court in which he named the Parkrose School District, school nurse Shannon Anastasiadis, athletic trainer Jun Kawaguchi, former head football coach Maurice France, former athletic director Dave Richardson, and former Superintendent Karen Gray as defendants.
The applicable law in the case was Max’s law, which served as the catalyst for Oregon’s high school concussion protocol. It sets forth the following, according to the complaint: a school district must ensure that coaches receive annual training regarding the recognition of symptoms of concussion, facilitate proper medical treatment for suspected concussions, and determine when the athlete may safely return to the athletic event or training. Furthermore, the school board must establish by rule the requirements of the concussion training program and timelines to ensure that each coach receives the concussion training. Potentially relevant to the instant case is OAR 581-022-2215(2)(f), which was in effect while plaintiff played football for Parkrose High School.
Boland’s attorney notes in the complaint that “each school district is required to ensure that no coach allows a student to participate in an athletic event or training on the same day the player has been diagnosed with a concussion or has exhibited signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion. Pursuant to OAR 581-022-2215 (2), which was in effect while plaintiff played football for Parkrose High School, each school district is required to ensure that no coach allows a student prohibited from returning to athletic events or training, as described in OAR 581-0222215 (2)(f), until that student (A) no longer exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion and (B) receives a medical release form from a health care professional. Pursuant to ORS 336.485(3)(b), and OAR 581-022-2215(2)(g), both of which were in effect while plaintiff played football for Parkrose High School, a concussed player may not participate in events or training until he has received a release form from a health care professional. ORS 336.485(1)(b), and OAR 581-022-2215(1)(d) define a health care professional as a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner licensed or certified under Oregon laws.”
The plaintiff claims he suffered three diagnosed concussions while playing high school football “or similar head and brain injuries that were not diagnosed.” This led to “severe headaches, blurred vision and fatigue.” He “was later diagnosed with diminished mental capacity and a neurocognitive disorder related to multiple concussions.”
Boland claimed the following transgressions in his lawsuit: “(a) Defendants PSD and Richardson failed to train coaches regarding the recognition of symptoms of concussion, how to seek proper Kawaguchi medical treatment for suspected concussions, and training in determination of when the athlete may safely return to the event or training; (b) Defendants failed to take proper steps to assure that plaintiff was not returned to play or training on the same day that plaintiff exhibited signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion, or had been diagnosed with a concussion; (c) Defendants failed to take proper steps to assure that plaintiff was not returned to play or training after being concussed until plaintiff no longer exhibited signs, symptoms or behavior consistent with concussions; and (d) Defendants failed to take proper steps to assure that plaintiff was not returned to play or training after being concussed until plaintiff received a medical release from a health care professional.”
Suit Could Add Additional Responsibilities to Coaches and Trainers
In a pivotal section of the complaint, Boland sought to broaden the scope of what should be expected of athletic officials.
“Defendants and other employees of PSD actively encouraged plaintiff to play football when they knew he was demonstrating signs of concussion,” according to the complaint. “(a) For example, defendant France knew that plaintiff was suffering ongoing headaches and that plaintiff found it necessary to spend time laying down in a dark room before games to alleviate those systems. (b) For another example, after plaintiff suffered his third concussion, plaintiff’s mother asked that he not play in the next game — an important playoff game. Defendants encouraged her to wait and see how plaintiff progressed. Defendants then allowed plaintiff to play the next game on information and belief without obtaining a doctor’s release to play in that game. (c) Defendants thus affirmatively placed plaintiff in a position of danger by returning him to play without the legally required medical clearance after plaintiff had experienced a concussion, and while he was still exhibiting signs and symptoms of a concussion, subjecting plaintiff to a second concussion and traumatic brain injury. Defendants’ acts constitute child abuse as defined by ORS 12.117(2). As a direct and foreseeable result of defendants’ acts and failures to act as described above, plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer, severe, sustained and likely permanent brain injuries, resulting in diminished mental capacity and a neuro-cognitive disorder.
“As a result of defendants’ unlawful actions, plaintiff has suffered past medical expenses. Plaintiff will suffer further economic damage in the form of future medical expenses, including but not limited to occupational therapy, neurologic care, specialized vision care, psychiatric care, and assistance with activities of daily living, and he will also suffer impaired earning capacity. Plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer economic damage in an amount to be determined at trial, but which is alleged to be not more than $200,000. As a direct result of defendants’ negligence, plaintiff suffered non-economic damages in the form of physical pain and suffering, permanent injuries, anxiety, depression, embarrassment in an amount to be determined at trial, but which is alleged to be not more than $750,000.”
Next, he claimed PSD’s actions “constitute violations of one or more of the following provisions of ORS 336.485 and OAR 581-022-2215: (a) In failing to ensure no coach allows a member of the PHS junior varsity football team to participate in a football game on the same calendar day that the player has been diagnosed with a concussion or exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with a concussion following an observed or suspected blow to the head. ORS 336.485(3)(a)(A)-(B) and OAR 581022-2215(2)(f)(A)-(B). (b) In returning plaintiff to practice and participation in a football game while he still exhibited signs, symptoms and behaviors consistent with a concussion following an observed or suspected blow to the head or body, and before he received a medical release form from a qualified health care professional. ORS 336.485(3)(b)(A)-(B) and OAR 581-0222215(2)(g)(A)-(B). (c) In failing to ensure that the coaches, assistant coaches, and athletic trainers at PSD received training which includes: (i) recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussion; (ii) strategies to reduce the risk of concussions; (iii) seeking proper medical treatment for a person suspected of having a concussion; (iv) determining when the athlete may safely return to the event or training; (v) complying with laws prohibiting concussed athletes from returning to events or training without a medical release from a qualified health care professional. ORS 336.485(2); OAR 581-022-2215 (2)(a)-(e), (4).
“As a direct result of PSD’s negligence, plaintiff suffered personal injuries described in paragraph 20. 26. As a direct result of defendants’ unlawful actions, plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer economic damage. As a direct result of defendants’ negligence, plaintiff suffered non-economic damages in the form of physical pain and suffering, permanent injuries, anxiety, depression, embarrassment.”
Finally, the plaintiffs claimed the defendants “intentionally and fraudulently concealed from plaintiff the fact that they were not complying with Oregon law in relation to plaintiff’s head injury. Plaintiff’s mother requested plaintiff’s records pertaining to his medical history as a football player for PHS in March 2018. Defendant Karen Gray refused to produce those records unless plaintiff’s mother, an employee of PSD, signed a document purporting to hold PSD harmless for liability for harming plaintiff. Even after plaintiff’s mother signed such a document, PSD produced only a single medical record in an envelope containing no cover letter or other indication that the single report provided was the only document in plaintiff’s entire file related to his four years playing football for PHS. In February 2019, plaintiff’s mother again requested his entire file from PSD. This time, PSD admitted, for the first time, that there were virtually no documents showing that defendants complied with Oregon law regarding plaintiff. Current PSD Superintendent Michael Lopes Serrao finally called plaintiff’s mother into his office on February 19, 2019 and admitted PSD’s violations of Oregon law.”
The lawsuit can be viewed at: https://pamplinmedia.com/documents/artdocs/00003636561460-0048.pdf