Who’s Liable In A Sport Related Concussion?

Who’s Liable In A Sport Related Concussion?

Every day, all across the country millions of children take part in youth sports, whether through a local recreation program, club team, or through a school-sponsored program.  Most parents of these children assume that the proper safety precautions are being taken and that the coaches are aware of necessary safety issues related to the sport.  However, parents should not necessarily be so sure.  Brain injuries in youth sports have reached epidemic proportions. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 300,000 sports-related brain injuries that occur in the United States every single year.  300,000 is a staggering number and it is one that parents should be aware of.  In the ten-year period from 1997 to 2007, more than 50 high school football players suffered serious head injuries or died as a result of injuries that took place on the field.  This is a sobering statistic and it shows that parents, student-athletes, and coaches must be aware of the potential for serious injuries and fatalities on the football field and in other contact sports.

In 2007, a study was done which revealed that over 40% of the coaches surveyed believed that a concussion only occurred if the athlete actually lost consciousness.  Even more seriously, 25% of the coaches said that they would permit a student-athlete to return to the field and play even if they were having concussion-like symptoms.  This statistic obviously shows the need for coaches and sponsoring organizations to become more aware of the dangers of concussions and the dangers of allowing an athlete with a concussion to return to the field.

The failure of coaches and governing bodies to be aware of the hazard of concussions is not limited to school or club sports.  A group of former NFL players has brought a lawsuit against the NFL claiming that the football league failed to adequately address the issue of concussions in the NFL and failed to make sure the athletes who received concussions were properly cared for or otherwise kept off of the field.  The NFL lawsuit is just further evidence that the risks posed by concussions are very real and can have lasting effects.

Research has shown that the most important factor in preventing permanent damage after an athlete has suffered an initial concussion is to remove that athlete from the football field or other athletic field and to have the athlete be seen immediately by a doctor. This idea often flies in the face of coaches and athletes who want to stress “toughness” and are quick to want to see the athlete return to the field and continue to play.  This attitude needs to change, particularly when it is an adult coach encouraging a child athlete who may have just suffered a head injury to return to the field and continue play.  That is simply unacceptable.  Rather, if there is the faintest suspicion that a child has sustained any type of a head injury, it should be the responsibility of that coach to intervene, tell the child he or she is not returning to the field, and secure the proper medical care for that child.

There are three main categories of defendants who may potentially be liable to an injured child and/or his or her parents in the event of an injury sustained during a school-sponsored athletic event.  These potential defendants are coaches, schools, and physicians.  Coaches have a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the foreseeable risk of harm to others.  The primary basis for holding a school district liable for an injury to an athlete is the employment of the coach or athletic trainer.  In sum, the coach needs to make sure that the child is okay, and the school needs to make sure that the coach will make sure that the child is okay.  In addition, governing bodies of youth sports and athletic associations may be liable if they fail to adopt or enforce appropriate policies and procedures for concussion management.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have set forth a “tool kit” for high school coaches to use when they suspect that an athlete has suffered a concussion.  The things that a coach should do are as follows:

  1. Remove the athlete from play;
  2. Ensure that the athlete is evaluated by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussions;
  3. Inform the athletes parents or guardians about the possible concussion and give them a fact sheet on concussions;
  4. Keep the athlete out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussions says that the child is symptom-free and is okay to return to play.

If your child has suffered a head injury while playing school-sponsored sports, you may have a claim that can be pursued against the school and/or the coach.  In such a situation, you should take the following steps to make sure to reserve necessary evidence that will be needed to prove your case.  The following evidence may be important to prove your case:

  • Game films and photographs
  • Testimony from other coaches or athletes
  • Testimony of parents, relatives, friends and teachers about the athlete’s behavior before and after the concussion
  • School records that contain injury report forms and records of the school’s health care
  • School or athletic association policies and procedures for injury reporting and return to play
  • The plaintiff’s medical chart
  • Neurologist opinions
  • Medical testing and evaluation
  • Diagnostic imaging

Proving a claim against a school or coach for failure to properly recognize a concussion and remove an athlete from a playing field can quickly become extremely complicated. There are issues and problems that will arise, particularly with respect to legal defenses which the school and city may have.  For example, there will almost surely be an assumption of the risk argument, a statutory immunity argument, and a waiver of liability argument.  For this reason, these claims often become complex and time-consuming.  It is important that you speak with an experienced attorney and learn your rights in the event that your child is involved in a school or club sports injury.  Fortunately, the lawyers at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC are here to help.  Give us a call today at 419-241-1395.  We will be happy to discuss your legal options and provide you with an absolutely free case evaluation.

Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC