Judge Enforces $300,000 Settlement in Concussion Case

(Editor’s note: the following is an update to an article that appeared in the June issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter. At the time it was published, there was some question about whether a settlement had been reached. For more stories like this subscribe to CLR.)

A state court judge in Montana has enforced a settlement agreement between the Three Forks School District and a former high school student athlete who suffered a severe concussion in a football practice in 2012.

The settlement calls for Michael Rouchleau and his parents to receive $300,000 as well as lifetime medical care up to $5 million through a catastrophic insurer.

There was some controversy after the settlement was initially agreed to in the summer of 2013. Reportedly, the plaintiffs had second thoughts about whether the amount would cover future medical expenses

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported that “three of Rouchleau’s own attorneys testified that their client agreed to the settlement but that his mother, Kim Rouchleau, got in the way.”

The plaintiffs alleged in their 2012 complaint that the player’s coaches were negligent when they sent him back on to the field to practice with the team, in spite of a doctor’s recommendation.

According to the lawsuit, Michael and another player suffered concussions and were vomiting on the field after being involved in a head-to-head tackle during practice on August 21, 2009. It was the second such head collision Michael had experienced that day.

A doctor later diagnosed Michael with a concussion and ordered that he not play for 11 days. When the coaches were notified of his limitations, they “indicated that if Michael wanted stay on the team, he would have to show up for practices, but that he would not be asked to play football until medically cleared,” the court document states.

However, the Rouchleaus claimed that six days after his initial injury, the coaches told Michael “to get out and hit bags, stating it wouldn’t be considered contact play.” They “also told Michael that if he wanted to play varsity, he would have to get off the bench and run some plays,” which he did, according to the suit. During these plays, a shoulder-to-helmet hit with the team’s largest linebacker knocked Michael unconscious and “he woke to find himself being carried off the field.”

“Despite being knocked unconscious and receiving an obvious second concussion, the coaches did not call 911, did not contact the school nurse and did not contact Michael’s parents,” in violation of school policy, the lawsuit alleges. Instead, “they merely sat him on the sidelines and sent him home after practice.”

The Rouchleaus’ other son, who also played on the team, told his mother of the incident and a subsequent medical examination revealed Michael suffered another concussion.

However, according to David Dalthorp, the school district’s attorney, “Michael’s coaches did not instruct him to participate in contact drills or otherwise go against his doctor’s orders.”

In addition, the Rouchleaus further alleged that when their son returned to school, he “became the subject of ridicule and teasing by his coaches, teachers, and peers.” His parents eventually sent Michael to live with family in California to attend school and receive rehabilitation for his brain injury. He attempted to attend Montana State University in the fall, but according to his attorney Michael Sand, it did not go well.

The lawsuit sought damages for past and future mental and physical pain and suffering, medical costs, lost earnings and other damages.

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