The Illinois High School Association is the nation’s first high school organization to face a class action lawsuit about concussions in football. The lawsuit, filed in November 2014 and amended in January 2015, seeks court supervision of how high schools manage football head injuries. The lawsuit has finally drawn a reply from the IHSA, which seeks a dismissal of the litigation. The association’s position is that this lawsuit could conceivably destroy football in Illinois high schools. The action was filed by Chicago lawyer Joe Siprut, who discusses the lawsuit in this report.
Siprut is no stranger to concussion litigation. He has been lead counsel in the concussion litigation filed against the NCAA in 2011. Siprut notes that the NCAA case has been settled for $75 million and for injunctive relief similar to what is being sought in this case. At the moment, the Siprut is working on a response from the plaintiff that will be filed later in May. He suggests that the IHSA’s remarks that the lawsuit is a threat to high school football in Illinois are just an attempt to influence public opinion.
First of all, says Siprut, it’s not true that the cost of increasing the safety of football would be too expensive for schools to handle. Second, Siprut adds, it makes no sense to say that safety should be sacrificed to keep the cost down. It would be like omitting the guardrail on a rollercoaster to make the tickets cheaper, even though the ride would be unreasonably dangerous that way.
The lawsuit is seeking among other things, the implementation of “return to play” guidelines that would “pass muster” in terms of player safety. Siprut points out that technological advances in the last decade offer high schools a number of options to improve safety at minimal cost. One of the things the suit asks for is the availability of a concussion specialist at all practices and games. That does not mean a doctor has to stand on the sidelines, but must only be available.
Compared to other states, Siprut opines that the IHSA is better than similar organizations in some states and worse than comparable organizations in other states. That’s true because there is no national association that has oversight authority over high school sports in the fifty states. Siprut says that he started his campaign to improve safety in Illinois because he and the plaintiff both live there. However, if the case succeeds, he would like to take the campaign to other states.
Siprut also makes the point that improved safety in football might cause more parents to permit their children to play football. Far from destroying high school football, the lawsuit might save the sport. If parents decide to keep their children out of football, “over time the talent well dries up. That’s how a sport slowly withers and dies.” Siprut says that, right now, he would not allow his son to play football. However, Siprut believes that football might well be made an acceptably safe sport for kids.
Joseph Siprut is the founder and managing partner of Siprut PC. He was named a “Super Lawyer” in Illinois for Class Action Litigation, and holds an AV Preeminent rating by Martindale Hubble, the highest possible peer review rating. He has been called a “fearless game-changer in class actions” by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Mr. Siprut was previously named one of the Top 40 attorneys in Illinois under the age of 40, and was also named one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in the country by the National Trial Lawyers Association. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.