A lawsuit against the Hermiston School District seeking $38.9 million alleging failure to protect a student from concussion harm has been moved to federal court, and documents from the school district’s side are denying major portions of the family’s claims.
A suit filed by a Hermiston family on behalf of their son in September will now be heard by the U.S. District Court, moved up from the state level. Dawna and Todd Martin allege that their son, Connor, was allowed to play football after he had already had a concussion while on the field, and claim that district and athletic staff did not take proper measures to inform them, or to make sure their son was physically and medically sound before returning to the field. The family has sued the district for medical costs and emotional distress.
The district’s response lists eight defenses, including contributory negligence — stating that the “plaintiff’s damages were caused in whole or in part by his own intentional acts, or the negligence (sic) of intentional acts of other parties, or non-parties.”
Roy Blaine, the trial court administrator for the Umatilla County Courthouse, said there are usually only a few reasons that a case will be removed from state court to federal court. In this case, he said, one party decided that the issue at hand was related to a constitutional right, and as such should be dealt with in federal court.
“The very simple answer is that they (the family) argue that the individual has a right to be free from bodily harm, under the 14th Amendment,” Blaine said. “So the school district moved to have the case in federal court rather than state court.”
The Hermiston School District referred questions about the suit to its lawyers, who did not respond to request for comment, and neither the Martin family nor their lawyers responded to requests. But a federal court document responding to the original lawsuit details the district’s admissions or denials of the family’s specific claims.
In their response to the suit, the district admitted to basic facts, such as the titles of involved staff and administrators, Martin’s age and status as a student and football player at Hermiston High School during the time the alleged incidents took place.
But they denied the bulk of the claims surrounding the first football game that the family says led to Martin’s injury. They admit that he participated in a football game between Hermiston High School and Mountain View High School on Sept. 15, 2016, but deny that he collided helmet-to-helmet with another player and about Martin’s encounters with school trainers the following day.
The district admits that Martin participated in another game on Oct. 20 between Hermiston and Redmond High School, but said they didn’t have enough knowledge to respond to the claim that Martin had a helmet-to-helmet collision with another player, or that he fell to the ground and his head bounced off the turf.
They admit that the same day, athletic trainer Dan Emery evaluated Martin and concluded he may have suffered a concussion, but deny that Emery told his father to take him home to rest, as well as subsequent claims about Emery’s assessment of Martin’s condition.
They admitted that Dr. Derek Earl evaluated Martin around Nov. 7, 2016, but said they lacked knowledge to admit or deny what the family claims Earl told them about his condition.
They also denied the family’s claim that the district did not have rules or policies ensuring that coaches should be trained to recognize concussion symptoms, or policies that students should not return to play or training the same day they exhibit signs of a concussion.
An article published Friday by the Pacific Northwest-based news organization InvestigateWest says that while Oregon has laws for when students can return to athletic activities after concussions, the state is lacking in specific rules for when concussed students return to the classroom, or accommodating students in class that are recovering from concussions.
The article reports that many schools don’t know about or take advantage of the free resources for learning about how to help concussed students. The Center for Brain Injury Research and Training (CBIRT), based in Eugene, released a free 10-hour online course to train educators, called “In the Classroom After Concussion.” The article also states that many times, the protocol for treating non-sports related brain injuries varies by individual school.
Federal court documents for the case state that the deadline for setting a pre-trial hearing is May 6, 2019.