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In a decision that may have implications for other athletic team doctors, a Waukegan, Ill., jury has ordered a former team physician for the Chicago Bears to pay $1.55 million to a fullback who suffered a career-ending concussion after being cleared to play after a previous head injury. Merril Hoge charged that Dr. John Jay Munsell, the Bears’ physician for nonorthopedic injuries, had failed to re-examine or monitor him and had failed to explain the symptoms of continued head injury before letting him back on the field, said his attorney, Robert L. Fogel, of Chicago’s Hilfman, Fogel, Martin & Barr. TAKING ‘BIG HITS’ Munsell countered that Hoge had failed to report any symptoms of head injury to Chicago Bears personnel so he could continue to play football. But on July 21, the Waukegan jury ordered Munsell to pay Hoge the two years’ salary he would have received from the Bears had the injury not ended his career. Hoge suffered the initial head injury in an Aug. 22, 1994, exhibition game with the Kansas City Chiefs and was brought to a hospital for a CT scan, said Fogel. He had a grade II concussion, including some memory loss. Munsell, who had accompanied Hoge to the hospital, “determined Merril would be out for a week, but he never re-examined him and never explained the symptoms” to Hoge. Hoge returned to full-contact practice and resumed play after sitting out one game, Fogel said. During the next few weeks, Hoge “reported headaches and fatigue to the assistant trainer,” Mr. Fogel said. In addition, during games he received low-grade concussions. On Oct. 2, while playing against the Buffalo Bills, Hoge “suffered a big hit,” Fogel said. He eventually came out to get his chin stitched. The doctor noticed that Hoge was disoriented, and the football player was immediately taken to Northwestern Hospital for another CT scan. Hoge had sustained another grade II concussion, and the memory loss “went on for months,” said Fogel. Hoge still has some residual brain damage. He has not played since. Before the injury, Hoge had just signed a three-year contract with the Bears. The team paid only the first year of the contract, Fogel said. Hoge sued Munsell, alleging medical negligence. Hoge v. Munsell, No. 98 L 996 (Cir. Ct., Lake Co., Ill.). The primary claim against Munsell, Fogel said, “was that he had violated the standard of care.” Hoge’s brain hadn’t completely healed from the Aug. 22 concussion, and he should have been given a return-to-play examination. The plaintiff also contended that Munsell had failed to warn Hoge of the risk of continued play. Munsell contended that he was unaware Merril Hoge was suffering any post-concussion symptoms before the Oct. 2 injury. ” Munsell said he had been in contact with the trainer and the trainer didn’t report any problems,” said Fogel. Munsell charged, he added, “ that Hoge should have volunteered more information or intentionally withheld information.” Munsell was represented by William J. Rogers, of Chicago’s Bollinger, Ruberry & Garvey. Mr. Rogers was not available for comment. The jury awarded Hoge $1.45 million for lost pay for the two years of the contract with the Bears and $100,000 for pain and suffering, but it rejected the plaintiff’s claim for an additional year of compensation. The jury kept the award low, said Fogel, “because he failed to report the symptoms. They reduced the verdict to reflect his responsibility.” Mr. Hoge is now a football analyst for ESPN. The verdict may be a forerunner of other decisions against team doctors who send athletes back to play after concussions, Fogel predicted: “This is the first verdict of its kind, but it sets a precedent.” Repeated concussions are becoming endemic in professional and amateur football, he said. “This sends a warning to team physicians that doctors should play an independent role in treating athletes. Merril Hoge had a physician-patient relationship with Munsell. He deserved the same level of care as any patient.”

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