The family of a Belt (Mont.) High School football player left paralyzed after collapsing from a concussion in September 2014 filed a lawsuit in Cascade County District Court on Tuesday.
Though no official damages have been requested, Bozeman-based attorney Mike Sand said attorneys will be seeking upward of $20 million in damages for Robert Back, who is now an 18-year-old quadriplegic whose only method of communication is through his eyes.
Sand said since September 2014, Back and his family have incurred more than $1 million in medical bills after being treated at Benefis, then specialty hospitals and rehab centers in Denver and Omaha. Back has been home in Belt since November and his stepmother Shannon quit her job to be his primary caregiver as he requires 24-7 care, Sand said.
The lawsuit alleges, basically, that even after being diagnosed with a concussion by a doctor who ordered him to stay out of the game and a consequent post-concussion cognitive exam required by state law, both Graham and Hansen ignored those orders by allowing Back to return to play before the doctor’s recommended return and Back collapsed on the sideline and was found to be unconscious and unresponsive.
“Robert’s future medical care is extensive. That burden should not fall upon the family,” Sand said. “It’s also really important to Robert and his parents that this never happens to another child.”
Court records indicate Robert stayed home from school and out of practice for a couple of days as the symptoms progressed. By mid-week, he went to see a doctor at the Great Falls Clinic who evaluated him and diagnosed him with a concussion. The doctor concluded he was to stay out of practice until Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. Robert delivered the note to Graham that he was to stay out of practice on Wednesday, Sept. 10.
Graham exchanged text messages with Hansen regarding Robert’s symptoms. Hansen reportedly told Graham that Robert could possibly have the flu, but said it was up to Graham to decide on whether to administer a concussion screening test called ImPACT (immediate post concussion assessment and cognative test). Attorneys argue Hansen reportedly did not inquire further into Robert’s condition.
Court records indicate Robert was given the ImPACT test on Sept. 10, 2014. The next day Hansen reviewed the results of the test, but prosecutors allege that without talking to Robert, evaluating him, or reviewing Benefis medical records, she determined that he had passed the ImPACT test.
On Friday, Sept. 12, 2014, Robert understood that he would not be playing in the football game that night, but at some point before the game Graham and/or Hansen verbally cleared Robert to play, despite doctor’s orders to the contrary, court records indicate. Prosecutors allege Hansen watched Robert warm up prior to the game but did not talk to him to learn how he was feeling. Though he didn’t experience any big hits during the game, after halftime, while standing on the sidelines, Robert collapsed.
He was taken by ambulance to Benefis where he underwent an emergency craniotomy. He has since been diagnosed with severe neurological and brain deficits.
“Absent a miraculous recovery, this is the way he’s going to be,” Sand said of Back, who turned 18 on Feb. 20. “He has made progress, but it has been baby steps.”
Calls have been made to Benefis Health System and Belt Public Schools seeking comment.