Concussions and Sports: A New Litigation Frontier?
A personal injury lawsuit filed against the governing body for collegiate athletics alleging insufficient protections and protocols regarding concussions among student athletes will proceed. A federal judge in the District of Columbia recently ruled on motions to dismiss the case filed against American University, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and other defendants by a former field hockey player who believes adequate foresight could have lessened the extent of her head injury after suffering a sports-related concussion in 2011.
Litigation of this type is not surprising given the attention in recent years given to head injuries in sports. The National Football League (NFL) notably in 2013 reached a billion dollar settlement with former players affected by concussions which is debatable a bargain for the league given its enormous profits and extent of damages suffered by players generally uninformed regarding the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s and other neurological injuries associated with repetitive head trauma. (Published reports indicate the life expectancy for NFL players can be as much as twenty years shorter than the average American male.)
Personal Injury Lawyers and medical studies
With specific regard to youth sports, the Journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study last year indicating that as many as 1.9 million minors suffer sports and recreation related concussions (SRRC) annually in the United States alone, but this figure could be much higher since it relies strictly upon data mined from hospital and insurance claims. Anytime there is a headache resulting from a blow to the head (including whiplash type injuries, which forcibly propel soft brain tissue against its protective cranial covering), there is good cause to assume a concussion has occurred. With each additional concussion, the risk of further injury increases, as well as the potential severity of each additional injury.
The field hockey lawsuit against American University alleges the university, NCAA and others failed to properly anticipate the progressive nature of concussive injuries and implement protocols designed to protect student athletes from additional injury after the occurrence of an initial injury. Where there is human activity there will be injuries — we cannot live in bubbles — but recognizing the severity of injury, implementing practical concussion protocols and informing participants and parents of the risks associated with organized athletic activity is paramount in reducing the long-term effects of a personal injury.
The AAP-published study, while focused on traumatic brain injuries suffered in conjunction with youth sports, notes that as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States annually when examining the population as a whole. In assessing whether an individual has a viable lawsuit related to head injuries sustained during organized athletic activity, one must ask the classic questions related to all tort-based litigation:
(1) Was the injury foreseeable?
(2) Did someone have a duty to minimize the risk of injury?
(3) Was the extent of the known risk communicated to the participants (or their parents)?
(4) Was either to the duty to inform or to minimize the risk of injury breached?
If the answer is yes to each question, there is potential liability. Concussions are brain injuries and are not to be taken lightly. The risks associated with athletic activity must be weighed against the potential benefits and now that more risks are being identified, one can reasonably assume, in instances where those foreseeable risks are not minimized by the use of proper equipment and protocols, an increase in negligence-related concussion lawsuits will be seen going forward.
Personal Injury Lawyer from Tate Law Group of Savannah GA is ready to go to bat for you regarding sports-related or any personal injury cases. Contact us today with your questions.