FIFA named as defendant in class action alleging failure to evaluate concussions

Kyla Asbury Nov. 29, 2014, 6:00pm

OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - Parents of current and former soccer players filed a class action lawsuit against the Fèdèration Internationale de Football Association for failing to adopt effective policies to evaluate and manage concussions.

Rachel Mehr; Beata Ivanauskiene, as parent of R.K.I. Jr.; Sarah Aranda, as parent of minors B.A., D.A. and I.A.; Kira Akka-Seidel; Karen Christine O'Donoghue, as parent of minor L.L.M., claim they want FIFA, along with the United States Soccer Federation, US Youth Soccer Association; American Youth Soccer Organization; National Association of Competitive Soccer Clubs; and California Youth Soccer Association, to change the rules of the sport of soccer, and to establish a medical monitoring program, according to a complaint filed Aug. 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

"The medical community called for change over a decade ago and despite simple, best-practice guidelines, which have been updated three times since the initial international conference on concussions, FIFA has failed to enact the policies and rules needed to protect soccer players," said plaintiff's attorney Steve W. Berman. "We believe it is imperative we force these organizations to put a stop to hazardous practices that put players at unnecessary risk."

The defendants failed to enact and/or enforce best practices for concussion management, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs claims FIFA also failed to modify the laws of the game to provide proper protection from concussion injuries in two aspects.

"First, FIFA has strict rules about the number of players that can be substituted," the complaint states. "These strict rules do not allow a team to take a potentially concussed player out of a game solely for evaluation."

As a result, teams leave in concussed players who are placed at risk for aggravating brain injuries that would resolve had they been evaluated and removed from the game, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs claim FIFA's failure has caused leagues lower in the hierarchy either to limit substitution or to not emphasize in their laws of the game the mandate to substitute for concussion evaluation.

Youth players are particularly vulnerable to brain injuries from heading, according to the suit.

"There exists state of the art medical evidence indicating that players under the age of 17 should not take headers in practice or be limited in the number per week and that players under 14 should not head at all, or at a minimum be limited in the number of headers," the complaint states.

"The negligence is remarkable, given that FIFA actively promotes its activities to children," Berman said. "Yet no rule limits headers in children’s soccer, and children are often taught to head the ball from the age of three. We estimate that a dedicated youth player might sustain 1,000 headers per year, and a high school player more than 1,800 headers."

The plaintiffs claim the proposed class is current and former players from 2002 to the present, who competed for a team governed by the defendants.

At issue is whether the defendants were aware of policies and rules available to protect soccer players and ignored common-sense guidelines to better shield against concussions, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs claim FIFA's guidelines read as though players are told to self-diagnose brain injuries.

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification, injunctive relief and the establishment of a medical monitoring system. They are being represented by Berman, Jon T. King, Elizabeth A. Fegan and Thomas A. Ahlering of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP; and Derek G. Howard, Jack W. Lee and Sean Tamura-Sato of Minami Tamaki LLP.

The case is assigned to District Judge Donna M. Ryu.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case number: 4:14-cv-03879

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