EAST ST. LOUIS — Demond Hunt Jr. fell into a coma for two weeks after taking blows to the head during a football game at East St. Louis Senior High School in 2008, according to a lawsuit filed this month in St. Clair County.
The lawsuit claims Hunt has permanent brain damage from playing high school football, and seeks damages of more than $50,000 against the high school, East St. Louis School District 189 and head Coach Darren Sunkett.
Hunt’s lawyer, Thomas Maag of Wood River, could not be reached for comment.
“This case was re-filed by another attorney after having been dismissed last year. District 189 has already investigated and denied the claim, and we will continue to vigorously defend against it. Beyond that, the District does not comment on pending litigation,” school district spokeswoman Sydney Stigge-Kaufman said in a statement.
Hunt’s mother, Shanai McLorn, originally filed a lawsuit against the school district and Sunkett in 2009. Doctors told McLorn that Hunt’s injuries were caused by football, McLorn told the Post-Dispatch at the time.
The NFL and NCAA face multiple lawsuits over their handling of football players’ concussions. A handful of former high school players have received settlements related to brain injuries. Illinois was home to the nation’s first class-action lawsuit against a high school governing body regarding potential brain damage in football players. The suit against the Illinois High School Association called for stricter concussion protocols but was dismissed by an Illinois judge in 2015.
The risk of brain damage from playing football was highlighted by a report last summer showing that 110 out of 111 former National Football League players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease thought to be linked to repetitive head injuries. The report also showed signs of the disease in the brains of 48 out of 53 college players and three out of 14 who played only in high school. The results were not considered scientific, however, because family members donated the brains of the former players based on their concerns about symptoms of the disease while they were alive.
During a game against Collinsville High School on Oct. 3, 2008, Hunt, then 16 and a junior linebacker, suffered a burst blood vessel or clot in his brain, causing a series of seizures and strokes that led to a two-week coma, according to the suit. He was hospitalized for at least five weeks.
Hunt’s lawsuit also claims that he broke his collarbone at a practice in July 2008 after tackling another player while neither wore protective gear. The other player broke his neck, the lawsuit claims. It further claims that Hunt was put on a plane to a tournament without receiving medical attention for the broken collarbone.
Other defendants include helmet manufacturer Schutt Holdings of Litchfield, Illinois, and Curt Smith Sporting Goods of Belleville. The companies made and sold defective helmets, according to the lawsuit. Representatives for the companies declined to comment.
Helmets can absorb some energy from a blow to the head, but they don’t prevent concussions which are caused by the movement of the brain within the skull, said Dr. Brian Mahaffey, sports medicine physician at Mercy Hospital St. Louis.
The suit claims that Hunt’s medical bills have exceeded $200,000 for his hospital stay and ongoing physical therapy.
Head coach Sunkett encouraged student-athletes “to engage in dangerous and high risk behavior” and placed winning over the players’ health and safety, according to the lawsuit. It also claims that Sunkett ordered Hunt to continue playing after he complained of a headache and was showing signs of a concussion.
According to an interview with the Post-Dispatch in 2008, Hunt told doctors he had been suffering from headaches during the week of the Collinsville game, and that he had a headache on game day.
The suit claims that Sunkett ridiculed injured players, making others afraid to report their injuries. Parents were not notified of their children’s injuries, according to the suit.
Sunkett told the Post-Dispatch in 2009 that he was upset by the original lawsuit.
“It hurts, I’d say it hurts,” Sunkett said at the time. “Because you do so much for the kids and you hate to have somebody put you in a negative light. So, yeah, it definitely hurts.”
As of 2015, an Illinois law requires students to get a doctor’s approval before returning to sports after a concussion. “If your child complains of headaches, ask questions and try to find out what happened, “ Hunt’s mother McLorn told the Post-Dispatch in 2008. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s golf, tennis, anything. Have them checked out. What happened to Demond could happen to anybody.”