In a decision that might prove important for future victims of brain injuries suffered during youth sports, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the suit against a Spokane private school and a football coach over the death of an athlete can continue.
The case, in the courts since 2012, could now move to a jury trial.
On September 18, 2009, Drew Swank suffered a blow to the head during a Valley Christian School (VCS) football game. He was removed from the game, although he was later cleared to play in a week.
He played in that week’s game, but during the game, his play deteriorated rapidly. At one point, his coach allegedly yelled at him while jerking his face mask up and down. Soon after, Drew received additional head injuries, which caused him to collapse. He died two days later.
In 2012, the Swanks filed negligence claims against the school, the head coach, and several other individuals over Drew’s death. The lower court summarily dismissed the original claims, and most of that dismissal was upheld on appeal. The Supreme Court has reinstated several important parts of the case.
At issue is whether the school and its staff met the obligations of the Lystedt law, a measure that came into effect shortly before Swank’s death. That law requires schools to develop plans to inform athletes and their parents of head injury risks, to remove athletes from play after suspected head injuries, and to keep athletes out of play until cleared in writing by a healthcare professional.
VCS claimed to have met these obligations. The Court, in its unanimous decision, ruled that the law also placed an obligation on VCS to protect the health of its athletes beyond any strict wording of the statute.
While the ruling does not settle the suit, the Swanks will be able to present their negligence claims and evidence to a jury.
Head injuries in youth sports are still a major concern, despite increased awareness of the dangers in the years since Drew’s death. One 2015 study calculated that nearly 10 percent of high school football players suffer a concussion in any given season; with more than 1 million players on the field each season, that could mean 100,000 youth football concussions per year, many of which go undiagnosed.
We hope this case reminds schools, parents, and athletes to monitor the risks; this ruling comes just in time for the start of preseason training camps, which often brings a spike in injuries.
If you or a family member has suffered a preventable brain injury in a sporting event, a car crash, or some other incident caused by another person, getting the help you need is vital. The attorneys at Craig Swapp & Associates have extensive experience with traumatic brain injury cases, and we can help you.
To speak with a Spokane brain injury lawyer, call 800-404-9000 or fill out the online contact form below.