Legal Counsel for Robert Back family files lawsuit - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Legal Counsel for Robert Back family files lawsuit

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UPDATE: 3/16/2016 4:02 P.M.:

A lawsuit filed on behalf of former Belt High School football player Robert Back and his family claims negligence by multiple parties is to blame for the devastating brain injury he suffered after halftime of a game in 2014.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Cascade County District Court, alleges Belt head football coach Jeff Graham, his employer the Belt School District, athletic trainer Jessica Hansen, and her employer Benefis Health System, are at fault because of several missteps made in the return-to-play process.

While Back collapsed on September 12th, 2014 during a home game against league rival Chester-Joplin-Inverness, the lawsuit says he initially suffered a concussion the week before on Friday, September 5th during an away game at Power-Dutton-Brady. He was taken to the emergency room at Benefis the following night after exhibiting concussion-like symptoms, including nausea and headaches, and was diagnosed with a 'minor closed head injury.'

Then, on Wednesday, September 10th, he was diagnosed with a concussion by a doctor at the Great Falls Clinic and received a note saying he was not to return to football practice until Monday, September 15th.

The same day Back visited the Clinic, the lawsuit also claims coach Graham instructed him to take a computer-based concussion evaluation test called imPACT, which many schools administer as part of their concussion protocol. However, it is alleged trainer Hansen only directed Graham to administer the test if he felt it necessary. She also allegedly inferred that if Back did not have a headache, he could have been suffering from the flu because it was reportedly going around at the time.

The suit continues on to say Hansen reviewed the results on Thursday, September 11th and determined Back passed. The suit claims she did not talk to Back, evaluate or examine him, or review his Benefis medical records. It also says Hansen did not inquire as to why Back had reported on the imPACT test he had suffered a concussion that same month. Back then went on to participate in a non-contact practice in which he reportedly exhibited confusion and disorientation.

Despite that, the following day on Friday, September 12th, the suit alleges he was verbally cleared by either Graham and/or Hansen against the doctors recommendation to return-to-play against CJI.

The year before these events in 2013, the 63rd Montana Legislature passed the 'Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act' which addresses concussions. 

Steigers was a former football player at Missoula Sentinel High School who was playing at Eastern Oregon University and died shortly after suffering a severe brain injury from a hit during a scrimmage. Section 5 of the Act includes return-to-play provisions and states an athlete who suffered a concussion cannot return until they no longer exhibit signs, symptoms, or behaviors consistent with a concussion, receives an evaluation by a licensed health care professional, and receives written clearance to return. The written clearance must state that that the licensed health care professional has evaluated the youth athlete; and that in the licensed health care professional's opinion, the youth athlete is capable of safely resuming participation in organized youth athletic activities.

While Hansen is a licensed health care professional, the suit states the protocol was not followed, and that no written clearance was ever received. As a result, Back has severe neurological and brain deficits, is quadriplegic, cannot speak. He now requires 24-hour care.

Other Plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit include the Belt School District's insurance providers: EMC Insurance Group; Dakota Fire Insurance Company and Employers Mutual Casualty Company. The damages the Backs are entitled to from them is under dispute.*(Claim #5)
There are seven claims made in the lawsuit. They include:

1. Negligence: Defendants Belt School District 29 and Graham

2. Negligence: Defendants Benefis Health System and Hansen

3. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress: Defendants Belt School District 29, Graham, Benefis Health System, and Hansen

4. Loss of Consortium: Defendants Belt School District 29, Graham, Benefis Health System, and Hansen

5. Declaratory Judgment: Defendants EMC Insurance Group INC., Dakota Fire Insurance Company

Other claims include the Constitutional Challenge of Montana Code Ann. § 2-9-108 (Limitation on governmental liability for damages in tort which is listed at $750,000 per claim, and is a reason the amount the insurance companies will pay is being disputed. The policy the Belt School District is allegedly protected by is $2 million.)

Montana Code Ann. § 25-9-411 is also being challenged. That places a limit of $250,000 in damages for non-economic losses due to medical malpractice.

KFBB reached out to both the Belt School District and Benefis Health System for a response to the legal claims. Keri Garman, the Communications Manager for Benefis released this statement:

"Benefis unfortunately cannot comment on the details of a pending case, but we certainly wish Robert Back and his family well as he continues to recover."

Superintendent of the Belt School District, Kathleen Prody, released this statement to KFBB Wednesday afternoon:

"Belt School recently received a copy of a complaint filed against the Belt School District by the Back family. Since this tragic event, we have been and continue to be deeply concerned for the welfare of Robert and his family. We  disagree with assertions of wrongdoing on the part of the district or its employees. Our attorneys are reviewing the complaint and will prepare an appropriate response. Any questions should be directed to our attorney." 

Stay with KFBB on-air and online for in depth, team coverage of this case. 

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