GREAT FALLS (AP) – The family of a Belt high school football player who collapsed on the sidelines and is paralyzed filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging his coach and a trainer ignored a doctor's order that he not play for 10 days after suffering a concussion.
Attorney Mike Sand of Bozeman said he will be seeking about $20 million in damages on behalf of Robert Back, an 18-year-old quadriplegic who cannot speak.
The lawsuit names Belt School District, football coach Jeff Graham, Benefis Health System, Benefis-employed athletic trainer Jessica Hansen and companies that insure the school district.
It argues the coach, trainer or both verbally cleared Back to play shortly before the Sept. 12, 2014, game.
State law requires that such clearance be given by a licensed health care provider, the lawsuit notes.
Benefis spokeswoman Keri Garman declined comment on the lawsuit. Belt superintendent Kathy Prody and coach Jeff Graham did not immediately respond to emails from the Associated Press seeking comment.
Back had suffered a concussion in a game a week earlier. Five days later, he saw a doctor who said he should stay out of practice until Sept. 15, the lawsuit states, and Back gave the note to his coach that day.
It says Graham exchanged text messages with Hansen, who said it was up to Graham to decide whether to administer a standardized concussion screening test and Graham did. Hansen reviewed the results the next day and determined Back had passed the test, the lawsuit said. However, Hansen did not speak with Back or review his medical records, the complaint states.
Back participated in non-contact practice on Sept. 11, 2014, during which he reportedly exhibited confusion and disorientation, the lawsuit said.
The next day, Back played in the first half of the varsity game, the lawsuit says. He didn't suffer any big hits but collapsed while standing on the sidelines after halftime.
He was taken to Benefis HealthCare in Great Falls where he underwent surgery to lessen the pressure on his brain. He has been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
He has seizures, has trouble swallowing and deficits in attention, memory and cognitive skills, the lawsuit said. The family has incurred more than $1 million in medical bills.
"Absent a miraculous recovery, this is the way he's going to be," Sand said, noting Back needs around-the-clock care. "He has made progress, but it has been baby steps."
The claim also seeks to clarify the limits of the school's insurance policies and seeks a ruling that state laws that cap damages in lawsuits are unconstitutional.