Football death lawsuit could have big implications

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s been over a year since Brocton High School student Damon Janes died following a hit he received on the football field. Now his parents are suing the schools, emergency responders, medical providers and the state athletic association for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering.

The lawsuit makes several claims of negligence against Westfield and Brocton High Schools, which consolidated their football programs. And several of those claims revolve around how countless small-town high school football teams operate.

The parents of the late Damon Janes, Dean Janes and Penny Gilbert, claim the star running back suffered one or more concussion in the first half, but coaches kept him in the game despite the symptoms. Then Janes was struck in the head in the third quarter, walked off the field and collapsed.

The lawsuit claims Westfield and Brocton schools had no safety policy, and failed to educate players, parents and coaches about concussions. It claims the districts’ coaches never completed required training and certification, and failed to have a trainer at the game.

In addition, the suit blames Westfield and Brocton for things many small districts across the country do — fielding a team with a small roster, putting players on both offense and defense, and for taking the field against a team with much larger players.

They also claim the New York Public High School Athletic Association should classify teams based on the size of their players, rather than enrollment, to ensure safe games. News 4 could not find a single high school athletic association in America that classifies teams based on their players’ physical size.

The lawsuit also pins blame on Olean General Hospital and the doctor who treated Janes before transporting him to Women and Children’s hospital three and a half hours later.

Also named In the lawsuit are three emergency response companies involved in moving Janes from the field to the hospital. The suit claims the Portville Fire Department refused to bring an ambulance onto the field, “putting concerns about property damage ahead of the lives and safety of student athletes.”

A Portville Firefighter told News 4 at first they feared the ambulance would get stuck on the field, because the ground was soaked after a week of rain. But he says they did in fact drive onto the field and followed all appropriate procedures.

News 4 called or emailed Janes’ parents and all of the defendants. The Portville Fire Department was the only one to comment.

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