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Judge Dismisses Concussion Lawsuit Against Illinois High School Association

An Illinois judge has dismissed the nation's first class-action lawsuit against a state high school association over its handling of concussions, ruling that it had made strides in that regard since the filing of the lawsuit.

In his ruling last month, Cook County Judge Leroy Martin Jr. rejected the plaintiff's request for "injunctive relief intended to correct the deficiencies with IHSA's current policies and procedures," as he determined the association "has acted to protect student-athletes" in Illinois. To wit, the Illinois High School Association launched a "Play Smart. Play Hard." initiative in May, which aims to enhance the safety of high school sports in Illinois and across the nation. At the same time, the Illinois Advisory Council on Player Safety also debuted with the purpose of "facilitat[ing] open and transparent dialogue around head injuries and other player-safety issues."

Because of the IHSA's strides in the player-safety domain since the lawsuit's filing, Martin decreed the plaintiff's specific requests to be "simply conclusions and not factual allegations capable of being proven at all." The plaintiff of the suit, former Notre Dame (Ill.) College Prep quarterback Daniel Bukal, wanted the IHSA to establish a medical monitoring program for members of the class, as the association allegedly did not have a concussion policy in place in the early 2000s during his playing days. However, the judge ruled Bukal failed "to establish a causative link between IHSA and the damages sought." In the original filing, Bukal claimed he continues to suffer from lingering concussion effects, including lightheadedness, migraines, and memory loss.

Following Martin's ruling, IHSA Executive Directory Marty Hickman issued a statement.

"We maintain that the way to make high school football in Illinois safer is not through divisive lawsuits, but rather through collaborative efforts with key stakeholders," said Hickman. "We have followed this practice for years, and it's obvious the Court agrees with our approach."

Chicago-based attorney Jacqueline Gharapour Wernz told CookCountyRecord.com "this case may not foreclose all future lawsuits by injured players against the Illinois High School Association, but it should foreclose many. The court dismissed the case because of many deficiencies in the allegations in the complaint."

However, Wernz noted the case does not close the door on future lawsuits against individual schools.

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