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Soccer Personal Injury

Family of Downingtown East Soccer Player Sues Over Girl’s Alleged Soccer Personal Injury

A few years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Dateline NBC shed light on the reality that hundreds of girls across America suffer concussions while playing soccer each year.

“People who think of concussions as only being present mostly in guys and mostly in the sport of football are just plain wrong,” said Dr. Bob Cantu, who is chairman of the surgery division and the director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. “Soccer is right at the top of the list for girls.”

Dateline told the story of five young girls from Downingtown East High School who has all suffered brain injuries from soccer.  Their lives are now deeply affected by their injuries.  They are unable to make it through a full day of school, suffer intense headaches, visual problems,

“My main friends are actually people that have head injuries,” said one of the teens, Kimmie Zeffert, 14.  “I’ve become so close with them because I can relate to them.  They understand what I’m going through.”

After this investigative report on soccer personal injury, in July of 2012 the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Safety in Youth Sports Act into law to prevent these injuries.  The University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences stated that Pennsylvania passed this because more young people are participating in sports and the level of play being more competitive than ever.  They continued that the act offers new guidelines and standards for managing concussions and traumatic brain injuries in student athletes, through renewed education and awareness efforts. It outlines the proper management of concussions and sets a clear expectation for how to treat them — with a comprehensive, personalized approach.

Despite this act being passed, well known youth-soccer coach Craig Reed put one of his players back in the game during a 2012 scrimmage, according to a soccer personal injury lawsuit filed by her family last week, after the  player collided with another player as she went for a header and fell to the ground in tears.

Her family has now filed a soccer personal injury lawsuit.  The soccer personal injury lawsuit says the now 16 year-old girl, identified as M.U., suffered a traumatic brain injury that made her miss the majority of her 9th grade year.  The soccer personal injury lawsuit states that M.U. continues to suffer headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and other symptoms two years after the collision on Aug. 20, 2012.

The soccer personal injury lawsuit also names Total Soccer, the training center where Craig Reed worked previously and to which the suit says he encouraged students to buy “packets of lessons” with the understanding that if they didn’t, they wouldn’t get a coveted spot on the high school’s varsity squad.”

The GM at Total Soccer, Sean Davies, said Craig Reed was a top-notch coach and “not the kind of guy who would put a kid in that kind of situation.”

They maintain in the complaint that her civil rights were violated by the defendants’ negligent and reckless behavior, and they are seeking more than $150,000.

Downingtown Area School District is the largest in Chester County and a top player in the Chester-Montgomery League. The East Girls soccer team was league champion five of the last 10 years and district champion in 2009.

The soccer personal injury lawsuit stated that Craig Reed “worked the girls hard over the summer, with 6 a.m. practices, sometimes two workouts a day. It alleges that playing on Reed’s travel team was also critical to making varsity.”

After M.U. got hit, the soccer personal injury lawsuit suit says, she heard an opposing coach say she should be taken out of the game and evaluated. A teammate sitting on the bench also allegedly told Reed that M.U. had been hit and should be checked out.

The soccer personal injury lawsuit alleges that Craig Reed made M.U. play the rest of the scrimmage, and she collided with additional players and continued to head the ball, the complaint says.

As noted above, Pennsylvania’s Safety in Youth Sports Act was approved at the time of this soccer personal injury.  Therefore, Coach Reed would have gone against this Act if she was showing signs of a concussion, but not removed from the game.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “on the bus ride home from the game that day, M.U. began to get headaches, followed the next day by dizziness and vision problems, the lawsuit said. She missed 80 days of school that year and could attend only a few full days. Her academic performance suffered, affecting her choice of colleges and the kind of future she will be able to enjoy.”

So, why is this case getting media attention?  Well, kids get injured all the time playing sports.  And although Pennsylvania’s Safety in Youth Sports Act was approved,  is still very difficult to successfully sue a school district, especially in a state court.

Though students frequently get injured on the playing field, legal experts say it’s extremely difficult to successfully sue school districts and officials over sports injuries – especially in a state court.  It will be interested to see the outcome of this soccer personal injury lawsuit.

Nothing can take back the soccer personal injury of these young girls.  What the community can do is reflect on the best and safest way that the sport should be continued.

Dr. Cantu has made the proposal that heading be eliminated from youth soccer under the age of 14.  He said girls, because of their anatomy, may be especially vulnerable to concussions.

“Girls as a group have far weaker necks,” Cantu said.  “The same force delivered to a girl’s head spins the head much more because of the weak neck than it does the guys.”

Brandi Chastain, the Olympian who helped the United States win a World Cup, strongly disagrees with Cantu’s proposal to eliminate heading from girls’ soccer.

“It’s a part of the game and I think it’s an important part and I think it’s a beautiful part of the game, to be honest with you,” she said.  “I would never want to see that go away, but there’s a right way to do it. There’s a protective way to do it.”

Although there is dispute about how to make soccer safer for young women, even the parents of the soccer personal injury victims do not want to deter girls from playing the sport.

“Please don’t go and not play soccer because it’s such a great opportunity for the girls to just prove themselves and challenge themselves and make friends and travel,” said the mother of one of the girls at Downingtown who suffered a soccer personal injury.  “But be aware.”

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