DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A former Iowa high school football player who suffered a serious head injury during practice has been awarded almost $1 million in a negligence case against the district and a school nurse.
Kacey Strough, 18, had a pre-existing condition known as "cavernous malformation," or abnormally formed blood vessels in his brain. He sustained a concussion in October 2012 that aggravated this, but his attorney claimed Strough was allowed to continue practicing and playing for the Bedford High School football team despite having visited a school nurse. The lawyer said this prompted his vessels to bleed and ultimately led to severe debilitations he still endures.
Following a weeklong trial, jurors on Monday found school nurse Andrea Schuelke and Bedford Community School District negligent for failing to notify coaches that Strough might be concussed and for not making sure he saw a physician after a consultation at the school. He was awarded more than $140,000 in medical expenses and $850,000 in damages.
Gregory Barntsen, who represents the district, said an appeal is being considered, but that a decision hasn't yet been made.
"I was disappointed with the jury verdict," the attorney said in a prepared statement. "I believe the evidence presented at trial indicated that Kacey Strough had a spontaneous bleed of his cavernous malformation that was not due to his being hit in the head with the football or by contact during football practice."
The lawsuit filed in 2013 originally centered on allegations that two students repeatedly pelted Strough with footballs from about 6 feet away during practice. This claim was eventually dropped and it wasn't addressed at trial. Instead, blame was shifted from Bedford High School's response to bullying to how it handled the complaint of a head injury.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association mandates that students and their parents or guardians sign a concussion fact sheet before the students participate in after-school sports. A release permitting participation isn't required, and only coaches are mentioned in a 2011 Iowa law pertaining to head injury responses. Guidelines listed on the IHSAA website also detail a recommended protocol for coaches in the event of a concussion or other head injury.
"The nurse certainly should have been aware of these, should have put him on notice to coaches to take him out of play," Strough's attorney, Thomas Slater, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. "The coaches would have followed that if they had known he had been complaining."
Strough underwent surgery in November 2012 because of his injury to remove a blood clot near his brain stem. He remained in a coma for days, and he currently uses a wheelchair. A document filed ahead of the trial claims Strough would continue to need a wheelchair or walker for the rest of his life and that he would be permanently impaired physically, but Slater said Tuesday that Strough is slowly recovering and might be able to one day walk with a cane.
Barntsen said testimony from doctors, including a neurosurgeon who performed Strough's surgery, indicated that trauma doesn't necessarily cause cavernous malformation bleeding, which they said could have begun before his visit to the nurse.