District Administration November 2017 - 65

ProfessionalOpinion
Approaching the
concussion crisis proactively
High schools and districts can expect claims for negligence after athletic injuries
By Cort T. Malone and Jorge R. Aviles

W

hile the increasing number of concussion-related
injuries in the NFL-and
the player lawsuits that followed-have
captured the country's attention, less
attention has been paid to the rise of
similar claims coming from high school
student-athletes.
The litigation exposes high school
districts to an increased risk of classaction lawsuits and significant monetary
damages. Schools must determine
whether their existing insurance will respond to such liabilities.

Football is far from
the only sport facing
a potential lawsuit
epidemic, as sports
ranging from field
hockey to girls' soccer
are also subject to
injury risk.

Lawsuits on the rise
In 2015, Alex Pierscionek, who played
football at Chicago's South Elgin High
School, sued the Illinois High School
Association over its head injury policies,
making it the first state association that
could face class-action scrutiny. While
the court dismissed the lawsuit-finding
the association had taken steps to make
football safer and that imposing costly
requirements could force some schools to
drop the sport-Pierscionek is not alone.
In addition to class-action lawsuits, high
school players have also sued as individuals for their injuries. A U.S. District
Court last year awarded a player in Iowa
nearly $1 million after a jury found
the school district at fault because its
nurse was negligent in notifying coaches
and the player's guardian of a possible
concussion. In Florida, the family of a

former football player who suffered a serious brain injury on the school's football
field received a $2 million settlement.
Such examples are numerous.

DAmag.me/crisis

www.DistrictAdministration.com

Know your coverage
Football is far from the only sport facing a potential lawsuit epidemic. Field
hockey, lacrosse, girls' soccer and other
activities are subject to risk of injury,
including concussions. Because of the
potential exposure to multimillion dollar
liability, school districts and underwriters need to make sure they understand
their insurance program. While each case
is unique, high schools and districts can
expect claims for negligence, among others, in the coming years.
Some school districts are already procuring the requisite insurance to cover
such potential claims. The Montana
High School Association, for instance,
now facilitates concussion insurance
to cover injuries suffered by studentathletes and cheerleaders at its member
institutions. The insurance coverage will

extend to any practice or game in a sport
sanctioned by the Montana High School
Association and will be the secondary
payment option if there are still unpaid
deductibles resulting from the athlete's
own insurance payment.
Called HeadStrong, the insurance
program thrusts Montana-along with
states that have implemented similar
programs-to the forefront of those
athletic associations approaching the
concussions crisis proactively.
Policy changes
Insurance companies have been quick to
react and are already offering schools and
districts concussion-specific policies. At
least one such program includes awareness and education, neurocognitive testing, and access to medical professionals,
as well as excess insurance coverage to
protect student athletes.
Insurance companies are also tightening up traditional policies by adding
exclusions to their policies, capping
coverage, wrapping defense costs into
limits and charging higher premiums. It
is essential to be on the lookout for such
changes in policy terms that can open up
dangerous coverage gaps.
As the risks of concussion claims-
perhaps even class-action lawsuits-
continue to rise, school districts should
consult with their brokers and educate
themselves regarding the insurance policies available to them. DA
Cort T. Malone is a shareholder in the
insurance recovery group of Anderson Kill
P.C., and Jorge R. Aviles is an attorney in the
same group.
November 2017 65


http://www.DAmag.me/crisis http://www.DistrictAdministration.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration November 2017

District Administration November 2017 - Cover1
District Administration November 2017 - Cover2
District Administration November 2017 - 1
District Administration November 2017 - 2
District Administration November 2017 - 3
District Administration November 2017 - 4
District Administration November 2017 - 5
District Administration November 2017 - 6
District Administration November 2017 - 7
District Administration November 2017 - 8
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