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Pennsylvania high school students’ concussion class action allowed to proceed

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11 October 2017

On October 10, 2017, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the overruling of preliminary objections to the plaintiffs’ complaint in a 70-page opinion, and allowed a concussion lawsuit filed by high school student-athletes to proceed. Three students, individually and on behalf of a class, have filed a negligence suit against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) relating to concussion-related injuries sustained during participation in PIAA-regulated sports. The Commonwealth Court permitted an interlocutory appeal of the trial court’s ruling, and affirmed the lower court for the reasons discussed below.

The court analyzed four issues with regard to the negligence claim: 1) whether the claims are non-justiciable due to the effect of the Safety in Youth Sports Act (SYSA); 2) whether the plaintiffs are barred from recovery as a matter of law because of the “inherent risk/no duty” rule; 3) whether the plaintiffs are unable to establish a duty because a duty may not be imposed on the PIAA as a matter of public policy; 4) whether the plaintiffs failed to aver facts sufficient to demonstrate causation.

On the first issue, the court found dismissal of the claims based upon the enactment of the SYSA would be premature at the pleadings stage of the litigation, particularly when the court found that there is no indication that the Legislature intended to eliminate civil suits such as this one by enacting the SYSA. The court likewise held that it was premature to dismiss the complaint under the “inherent risk/no duty” rule because no discovery had been conducted to support the defense. Similarly, the court evaluated the applicable factors to determine whether a duty exists, and found that many lacked a factual record for a final determination to be made. Finally, on the fourth issue, the court found that the plaintiffs’ complaint had averred sufficient facts to show the PIAA’s pre-and post-concussion acts or omissions were a substantial factor in bringing about the harm allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs, which was all that is required to withstand preliminary objections. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the overruling of the PIAA’s preliminary objections and allowed the case to proceed.

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