A Hermiston family is suing the Hermiston School District, several coaches and an athletic trainer for $38.9 million, claiming district athletics staff in 2016 allowed their son to play a football game after sustaining a head injury, leading to long-term damage.
Todd and Dawna Martin filed a lawsuit last Wednesday in Umatilla County Circuit Court, asking for a jury trial and alleging that their son, Connor, sustained permanent injuries to his head, back and neck, and now has difficulty participating in regular activities. The suit states that Connor was injured when playing football as a member of Hermiston’s junior varsity team in September and October 2016. The lawsuit says Hermiston athletic staff did not inform his parents about their son’s injuries, nor did they conduct the proper tests to determine Connor’s readiness to return to football.
In addition to the district, the family is suing athletic director Larry Usher, athletic trainer Dan Emery, head football coach David Faeeteete, and junior varsity football coach Matthew Bruck in their personal capacities. The family is asking for $25 million in damages for Connor’s bodily injury, anxiety and impaired living capacity, as well as $13.2 million to cover Connor’s past and future medical expenses. The family also states that Dawna and Todd Martin’s relationship with their son has been impaired, and they ask $350,000 as compensation for resulting emotional distress.
When reached, the Martin family declined to comment, referring all requests to their lawyers — Martin Dolan and Patricia Pascone of Portland’s Dolan Law Group — who did not respond.
The Hermiston School District released a brief statement emphasizing its commitment to the safety and well-being of students, but declined to comment further, citing legal and privacy reasons.
“If there are lessons to be learned from this or any other situation, we will apply them with that focus in mind,” the statement said.
A 23-page document reviews the timeline of Connor’s injuries, and the process the family went through after learning about them. According to the suit, Connor first sustained an injury when he was playing a football game against Mountain View High School on September 15, 2016, when, early in the game, he collided helmet-to-helmet with another player. Mountain View’s trainer, Lindsay Hagler, evaluated Connor and diagnosed him with a suspected concussion, sidelining him for the rest of the game. The lawsuit states that Bruck then put Connor back into the game in the fourth quarter, despite his injuries.
At another game on October 20, Connor hit his head twice and his symptoms became even worse, with his mother reporting that she found him curled up, sobbing with a headache after the game, and unable to walk without falling.
The lawsuit details Connor’s visits to Hermiston’s athletic trainer, Emery, between the first and second injuries, and after the second injury. The lawsuit states that despite several evaluations, Emery never administered an ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test, an evaluation that measures brain function. It also states that he cleared Connor to play without having the authority to do so, did not inform his parents of his initial injuries at the game against Mountain View, and did not direct him to see Dr. Derek Earl, a Hermiston doctor and concussion specialist that the district retains as its school physician.
The suit states that after the second head injury, Connor was seen by a variety of specialists who excused him from school for several weeks and advised him to see a specialist at Oregon Health and Science University. He also saw Earl, who administered an ImPACT test, and told the Martin family that Connor’s concussion resulted in one of the worst declines in function that he had ever seen.
According to the suit, Connor continues to suffer pain and discomfort to his head, back and neck and can’t do basic activities, such as walking, balancing, reading and socializing, without difficulty. He has also not been able to attend school full-time, and now has an individualized education plan.