07.27.2017

Washington Supreme Court Holds that the Lystedt Law Provides a Cause of Action

In Swank, et al. v. Valley Christian School et al., ___ Wn.2d ___, ___ P.3d ___ (July 6, 2017), the Washington Supreme Court held that the Lystedt law (RCW 28A.600.190) creates an implied cause of action. The 2009 Lystedt law requires that 1) schools develop a concussion and head injury information sheet; 2) youth athletes be removed from play on suspicion of sustaining a concussion or head injury; and 3) youth athletes removed from play may not return without written clearance from a health care provider.

Andrew Swank (Drew) was a student at Valley Christian School, a non-profit religious school in Spokane, WA. In 2007, a parent, Jim Puryear, approached Valley Christian and offered to start a football team. Valley Christian accepted and Puryear began coaching as an unpaid volunteer. Valley Christian developed a concussion information sheet (CIS) and Coach Puryear distributed the CIS to parents at the beginning of the 2009 season. Coach Puryear discussed the CIS with parents and  Drew and his mother both signed the CIS.

On September 18, 2009, Drew was hit hard on the head during a football game. The Swanks live in Idaho and took Drew to his primary care physician in Idaho – Dr. Burns. Dr. Burns examined Drew in Idaho. Two days later, Dr. Burns wrote a note for Drew at his mother’s request.

Drew played football the next day. Though he initially played well, his performance declined sharply during the game. Drew appeared sluggish and confused and was slow to respond. Drew was hit by an opposing player during the game, staggered to the sidelines, and collapsed. He died two days later.

The Swanks sued Valley Christian, Coach Puryear, and Dr. Burns. The trial court granted summary judgment against the Swanks. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on all but the Swanks’ negligence claim against Valley Christian. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the trial court decision, except as regards Dr. Burns.

The Court applied the Bennett test to determine whether the Lystedt law provides an implied cause of action. The Court found that all three elements of the Bennett test were met: 1) Drew is a member of the class protected by the statute; 2) the legislative history showed support for a remedy; and 3) an implied cause of action is consistent with the purpose of the statute. Having found that the Lystedt law includes an implied cause of action, the Court further held that the requirements in RCW 28A.600.190(2), (3), and (4) include duties which can support a claim.

The Court found that the Swanks’ claims against Valley Christian and Coach Puryear may proceed, but that the Washington Courts lacked personal jurisdiction against the Idaho physician, Dr. Burns.

The Washington Supreme Court remanded the matter with instructions to reinstate the Swanks’ claims against Valley Christian and Coach Puryear.

Posted by Jennifer Dinning