During a preseason soccer scrimmage at Downingtown High School East, an incoming freshman going for a header collided with another player and fell to the ground in tears. After that, her coach did something that used to be routine, but has increasingly come under scrutiny: He put her back in the game, according to a lawsuit filed by her family last week in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against the district, the coach, and others.
The suit says the girl, now 16 and identified as M.U., suffered a traumatic brain injury that made her miss most of freshman year and that continues to cause headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and other symptoms two years after the collision on Aug. 20, 2012. The soccer player experienced headaches, dizziness and vision problems. She also missed almost 80 days of school.
Pennsylvania, like most states, has a statute – called the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act – that limits when school districts and their employees can be sued for actions taken in the performance of their everyday duties. Sean Fields, a staff attorney with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said that usually meant that coaches or other school supervisors couldn’t be sued in a state courtroom for negligence.
Lawyers sometimes turn to the federal courts in school sports-injury cases because the federal laws are somewhat different.