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Rocky's law: Illinois schools to carry catastrophic insurance for athletes (+video)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law that aims to 'provide comfort to sports families across Illinois' by requiring schools to have insurance to cover serious injuries to student athletes – and avoid lawsuits.

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In a tribute to high school football player Rasul "Rocky" Clark, who died last year of football injuries, Illinois is requiring all high schools in the state to offer catastrophic insurance coverage for student athletes.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) on Sunday signed the bill, dubbed "Rocky's Law," which requires public and private high schools to provide a minimum policy covering $3 million in benefits or five years of coverage related to medical injuries resulting from the playing field.

Mr. Clark, who was paralyzed from the neck down after a game-time tackle in 2000, died last year, two years after being informed that the school district’s $5 million insurance plan was used up and the district no longer could afford his medical bills.

Governor Quinn called the law a "tribute" to Clark that is intended “to provide more comfort to sports families across Illinois.”

The mandate is unusual because typically high school districts are not required to cover student athletes who may suffer serious injuries. Instead, they shift the financial burden to the families.

Before they are allowed to take a step on the field, student athletes, cheerleaders, or even marching band musicians at the high school level are required to sign a waiver showing they understand the risks involved in the sport and to prove that they have their own accident insurance. If they do not, schools typically offer a low-cost plan of their own. These plans can be used to cover additional costs for parents who carry insurance for the kids, or they can cover primary costs, if the parents don’t have private insurance.

The Illinois mandate is part of a “growing trend where the rights of athletes are being considered at a far greater level than they ever were for what is clearly a violent activity,” says Warren Zola, a sports law professor at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

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