School, Football Coach Deny Negligence in Player’s Injury

The lawsuit alleged coach Jeff Graham knew player suffered a concussion

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — The Belt High School football coach and the school district have denied any negligence in the injuries that left a 16-year-old football player a quadriplegic who cannot speak or care for himself.

Attorney Roger Witt of Great Falls responded Monday to a March lawsuit filed by Robert Back, his father and stepmother. The response included the defense that state law requires people who participate in sports or recreational activities to assume the inherent risks of participation.

The lawsuit alleged coach Jeff Graham knew Back suffered a concussion during a September 2014 game and that he was not to participate in football for a week. However, the lawsuit said Graham or a trainer verbally “cleared” Back to play in the next game. He collapsed on the sideline during that game.

The Backs’ attorney said he is seeking about $20 million in damages.

Witt’s response said Graham did not receive a medical note or any information from the boy’s doctor and did not clear Back to play the night he collapsed.

The school and the coach denied breaching any duty of care to Back, saying the injuries and alleged damages were caused by “their own acts or omissions, conduct, fault, or neglect” or by the acts, omissions, fault or neglect of others, and any recovery against the school and Graham should be diminished or barred.

The lawsuit also names Benefis Health System in Great Falls and an athletic trainer who was employed by Benefis, along with the school’s insurance policies. Benefis has declined to comment.