Photos shared in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court showed Shane Skillpa smiling with his girlfriend on a beach, posing on a jet ski and enjoying vacation.
Skillpa is suing West Mifflin Area School District, the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, alleging that an August 2009 concussion he suffered at football practice has caused him debilitating, permanent injuries.
The symptoms — including anxiety and depression, a lack of short-term memory and ability to concentrate — have become so bad that Skillpa says he can only work as a nurse for about 25 hours a week. He said he’s been told that he may no longer be able to work in that profession in about five years.
But attorney Andrew Kimball, who is representing the WPIAL and PIAA in the lawsuit, used the photos posted on social media by Skillpa’s girlfriend to raise doubts about the extent of his injuries.
The trial began Thursday before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Arnold Klein.
“I have good days and bad days,” Skillpa said on cross-examination Friday. “She’s not posting pictures of the days I’m in bed or sad because that’s not what you do on social media.”
Following Kimball’s cross-examination, attorney Joseph Luvara, who represents the school district, focused on Skillpa’s earnings.
In the lawsuit, Skillpa is seeking damages for potential lost earnings over his lifetime because of his injuries. In total, he’s asking for more than $5 million.
As a nurse at Jefferson Hospital, Skillpa was earning about $30 an hour. However, late last year and early this year, Skillpa went to Florida as a traveling nurse. His contract paid him $66 an hour, plus an allowance of nearly $400 a week for meals and incidentals as well as $672 a week for a lodging allowance.
Throughout Luvara’s questioning, Skillpa said the wages were inflated because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Skillpa also was questioned Friday about the drill in which he was injured. He said it happened on Aug. 24, 2009, during a two-person drill.
He called it a “macho drill,” in which one person tries to tackle the other in a confined space.
Skillpa said that when he and the other player collided, the facemasks on both of their helmets broke.
Roget Mitchell, Skillpa’s best friend through high school who played football with him, testified that the hit was one of the hardest he’s ever seen, whether in person or on TV.
“I’ve never seen a facemask get cracked before,” Mitchell said. “He went limp. He hit the ground. He looked like he just got knocked out.”
After the hit, Skillpa said none of his coaches asked him if he was OK or suggested that he see a trainer or physician.
“They just said I had my bell rung,” Skillpa said.
He was told to get a new helmet and rest for a few minutes. No medical personnel evaluated him. The only thing Skillpa said the coach asked was, “Are you seeing stars?”
“Did you tell any coach you were injured?” Luvara asked.
“No,” Skillpa answered. “I wasn’t aware I was injured.”
Although he had headaches and fatigue, Skillpa continued to practice for several days, blaming his symptoms on the heat and rigors of practice. It wasn’t until he woke up one morning and his mother noticed he didn’t look well that he went to the doctor. He was diagnosed with a concussion and was in treatment for about two years.
Although Skillpa’s doctors said that he had recovered, several years later he said he started to develop additional symptoms. Skillpa said his doctor told him they were caused by the initial concussion and continued hits to the head in subsequent practices.
As part of the lawsuit, Skillpa alleges that the school district, PIAA and WPIAL had a duty to keep student-athletes safe and ensure that proper concussion protocol was followed.