Jury awards H.S. athlete nearly $1 million in head injury case

Kacey Strough - Outsports.com
Kacey Strough - Outsports.com

An Iowa jury found a local school negligent for how it handled a football player's potential head injury, according to the Des Moines Register.

During the 2012 season, Bedford (Iowa) High School freshman Kacey Strough reportedly told his coach that teammates were repeatedly throwing footballs at his head from less than six feet away. He also asked them to stop, to no avail. The reportedly said coach said he would handle it, but did nothing.

The lawsuit, filed in 2013, said that Strough sustained head injuries as a result of the incident. He "told numerous teammates, coaches and the nurse that he believed he had a concussion (while complaining of headaches and double vision) but nothing was done," jury member Joe Osbrink told Yahoo Sports in an email.

The jury ruled Monday that the school must pay nearly $1 million in damages and medical fees, by far the largest payout in a high school head injury case. 

Within days of the ball-throwing incident, Strough showed more severe symptoms – slurred speech, severe headaches, partial paralysis – and had to be hospitalized. A CT scan showed that he has a rare condition called cavernous malformation. Cavernous malformation causes blood vessels in the brain to form abnormally, which disrupts normal blood flow. It was a pre-existing condition but was not discovered until after the injury, according to the evidence presented in court. 

Cavernous malformations only bleed in about six percent of cases, according to Osbrink. In Strough's case, the malformation was located near his brainstem. It's possible, though not definite, that the incident caused the malformation to start bleeding. It's also possible that it was a spontaneous bleed, according to the lawyer who represented the school and the school nurse. 

Doctors performed emergency surgery to stop the hemorrhaging. Strough was then placed in a medically-induced coma. He hasn't fully recovered. Now 18, he uses a wheelchair and has permanent brain damage. 

Strough, like all high school athletes, underwent a physical before he joined the football team. Had doctors known of the condition, Osbrink said, Strough would not have been cleared to play football in the first place. "There is no way that anyone knew of the malformation in Kacey's brain until it was too late," he said.

Regardless, teammates, coaches and the nurse reportedly knew that he complained of a possible concussion. The nurse examined him, according to her attorney, Gregory Barnsten. "Based on the further examination of Kacey and what he told her she did not think he had a concussion," he wrote. He said that she asked his grandmother, his primary caretaker, to bring him to a doctor.

Under an Iowa state law passed in 2011, coaches and officials must remove an athlete from the field at the first possible sign of a head injury. The athletes are not allowed to return until being evaluated and cleared by a licensed physician. Strough was not removed from the field. 

The school and the school nurse was found negligent for failing to tell the coaches about the potential concussion, according to the Des Moines Register, and for failing to follow up with his grandmother to make sure he had seen a doctor.

The jury awarded about $140,000 in medical expenses and $850,000 in "damages for pain and suffering, loss of mind and body, and loss of future earnings," according to the Des Moines Register. 

The case originally focused on the administration's failure to respond when Strough reported being bullied. It was later amended to focus on the failure to comply with the 2011 concussion and head injury law.

“Hopefully as this law finds its way into the system, school districts, nurses and coaches can get together and act in a more prompt way to get these problems addressed,” said Strough's lawyer, Tom Slater.

This case officially goes down as a jury holding a school responsible for failing to protect an athlete who sustained a head injury. It seems to be just as much of a win for anti-bullying advocates, a milestone case in a year when high school football hazing and bullying seemed to hit a new high

Editor's note: This story originally stated that the school nurse and administrators knew of Strough's condition prior to the injury. This was inaccurate, and the story has been amended to reflect the accurate timeline. 

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Danielle Elliot is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact her at delliot@yahoo-inc.com or find her onTwitter and Facebook. 

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