PIAA hit with concussion lawsuit


Three Lawrence County student athletes and their families on Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit claiming Pennsylvania's governing body of interscholastic sports did little to protect them from or help them with concussions suffered while playing high school sports.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on behalf of Jonathan Hites and Kaela Zingaro, both of New Castle, and Samuel Teolis on behalf of his minor son, Domenic. They live in Ellwood City. The lawsuit also seeks to cover other Pennsylvania student-athletes who experienced similar medical issues while practicing and playing PIAA-sanctioned sports.

The PIAA could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Hites suffered a severe concussion in 2011 as a Neshannock High School freshman while attending a team football camp at Slippery Rock University. It took him more than a year to be medically cleared but still experiences learning and social difficulties from the head trauma, attorney Jason Medure wrote in the lawsuit.

Zingaro suffered a concussion in June 2014 while playing for Neshannock High in a softball game, the lawsuit states. Doctors cleared her to return to play two months later, though her attorney said she continued to experience headaches and trouble concentrating.

Domenic Teolis, 17, is a senior at Lincoln High School. As a freshman, he sustained multiple concussions during football practices and games, the lawsuit states. After suffering a concussion in practice in October 2012, Teolis' lawyer said his client played the next day against Central Valley High. He reported concussive symptoms to a trainer and coaches but nothing was done until his parents took him to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC that night, the lawsuit states.

The injuries occurred just before or after state lawmakers passed the Safety in Youth Sports Act in 2011 and then-Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law.

The lawsuit claims the PIAA violated the law by not:

• Establishing preseason and regular-season concussion baseline tests;

• Tracking and reporting concussions;

• Requiring qualified medical personnel be present at all PIAA-sanctioned practices and events;

• Removing athletes with apparent concussions from practices and games;

• Taking measures to educate school personnel how to provide proper medical response to suspected concussions; and

• Providing resources for student athletes in seeking professional medical care at the time of a concussion, during treatment or for post-injury monitoring.

The lawsuit accuses the PIAA of negligence and wants to force the governing body to establish a medical-monitoring trust fund to pay for ongoing and long-term expenses of student athletes and former student athletes in the class.

State football championships may expand to three days: The state football championships would expand to three days next season under a tentative plan discussed this week by the sport's PIAA steering committee.

If approved by the PIAA Board of Directors, the PIAA in 2016 would hold one state final on Thursday (7 p.m.), two on Friday (1 p.m., 7 p.m.) and three on Saturday (11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 8 p.m.), said Mars athletic director and football coach Scott Heinauer, who represents the WPIAL on the steering committee. The games would be held Dec. 8-10, 2016.

The schedule discussed Wednesday had the Class 4A final on Thursday, Class A and 5A on Friday, and Class 2A, 3A and 6A on Saturday, in that order. The classification chosen for the Thursday night game could change each year.

The PIAA football championships will be held over two days this season as usual, but a planned expansion to six classifications added two additional finals next season.

New PIAA football playoff brackets have not been finalized, but should be revealed in the next two months. The WPIAL cannot schedule its football championships until the PIAA establishes whether WPIAL champions join the state playoffs in the semifinals or quarterfinals.