News Local/State

U of I Soccer Lawsuit Refocuses Attention On Sports Concussions


A former University of Illinois women's soccer player has filed a lawsuit against the school. A lawyer for Casey Conine says the team didn't follow university concussion protocol, and allowed her to play without being cleared by a doctor.

It's too soon to know what did or did not happen in this case. But, the allegations have re-focused attention on the issue of sports concussions.

Doctor Jeffrey Mjaanes directs the Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He does not work with the U of I and is not involved in this case, and he told Illinois Public Media's Scott Cameron that despite all the research, there's still a lot we don't know about concussions.

Lawsuit Filed Monday In Champaign County Court

In the lawsuit filed Monday in Champaign County Circuit Court, Conine said she was cleared to play in October 2014 after suffering a third concussion in two years at Illinois. The suit says Conine has suffered “injuries of a severe and permanent nature,” including headaches and difficulties concentrating.

“Our theory of the case has a lot to do with the University of Illinois not following its own concussion protocol, and particularly not having a doctor involved in clearing her,” said Conine’s attorney, Joseph Siprut.

He also is the co-counsel on a high-profile concussion lawsuit against the NCAA for which a judge is considering a proposed settlement.

The lawsuit names Athletic Director Mike Thomas, soccer coach Janet Rayfield, sports medicine director Paul Schmidt, trainer Brittany Scott and the school’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Conine’s lawsuit follows accusations by former football player Simon Cvijanovic and several former women’s basketball players of improper medical treatment and hostile conditions created by coaches. The university has hired two other Chicago law firms to investigate those allegations, and lawsuits have been threatened by some of those players.

According to Conine’s lawsuit, the Leslie, Michigan, native suffered two concussions diagnosed by team doctors in 2013. But during an October 2014 game against Northwestern she collided head-on with an opponent.

“She immediately collapsed to the ground and struggled to get up,” noticeably stumbling once she did, but was not taken out of the game, according the lawsuit.

In the days after that game, she was diagnosed with another concussion.

The university’s concussion protocol requires a team doctor to clear the player to return to play. But Conine claims she was allowed to play in two more games late that month without a doctor’s approval.

On Oct. 22, a team doctor decided she needed to be held out of future games, and in December, the team decided she shouldn’t play again, Conine claims. She was eventually removed from the team.