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PIAA faces concussion lawsuit

Three western Pennsylvania student-athletes and their families filed a class-action lawsuit last week claiming Pennsylvania's governing body of interscholastic sports did little to protect them from or help them with concussions suffered while playing high school sports.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on behalf of Jonathan Hites and Kaela Zingaro, both of New Castle, and Samuel Teolis on behalf of his minor son, Domenic. They live in Ellwood City. The lawsuit also seeks to cover other Pennsylvania student-athletes who experienced similar medical issues while practicing and playing PIAA-sanctioned sports.

The PIAA could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Hites suffered a severe concussion in 2011 as a Neshannock High School freshman while attending a team football camp at Slippery Rock University. It took him more than a year to be medically cleared but still experiences learning and social difficulties from the head trauma, attorney Jason Medure wrote in the lawsuit.

Zingaro suffered a concussion in June 2014 while playing for Neshannock High in a softball game, the lawsuit states. Doctors cleared her to return to play two months later, though her attorney said she continued to experience headaches and trouble concentrating.

Domenic Teolis, 17, is a senior at Lincoln High School. As a freshman, he sustained multiple concussions during football practices and games, the lawsuit states. After suffering a concussion in practice in October 2012, Teolis' lawyer said his client played the next day against Central Valley High. He reported concussive symptoms to a trainer and coaches but nothing was done until his parents took him to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC that night, the lawsuit states.

The injuries occurred just before or after state lawmakers passed the Safety in Youth Sports Act in 2011 and then-Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law.

The lawsuit claims the PIAA violated the law by not:

  • Establishing preseason and regular-season concussion baseline tests;
  • Tracking and reporting concussions;
  • Requiring qualified medical personnel be present at all PIAA-sanctioned practices and events;
  • Removing athletes with apparent concussions from practices and games;
  • Taking measures to educate school personnel how to provide proper medical response to suspected concussions; and
  • Providing resources for student athletes in seeking professional medical care at the time of a concussion, during treatment or for post-injury monitoring.

The lawsuit accuses the PIAA of negligence and wants to force the governing body to establish a medical-monitoring trust fund to pay for ongoing and long-term expenses of student athletes and former student athletes in the class.