By: Darl H. Champion Jr.
As a parent of young kids, I look forward to watching them compete in athletics throughout their childhoods. But I know, as a trial lawyer, that such activities aren’t without risks. Too often, we learn of kids suffering serious injuries, such as concussions, that have lasting and detrimental implications on physical and mental health.
Concussions are increasingly common (and costly)
Concussions, which are a form of brain injury, cause memory problems, irritability, and a full range of other personality changes for children in the U.S. each year. The National Library of Medicine estimates that between 1.1 and 1.9 million “sports and recreation related concussions” occur annually for those 18 and younger.
Common symptoms of a concussion include headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, vomiting and worse. While Emory University has indicated that the effects of many concussions can be delayed until later in life, immediate physical issues are possible as well. The CDC reported that there were nearly 61,000 traumatic brain injury deaths in 2019 alone.
In addition to the physical cost, concussions levy a financial one as well. Georgia’s Brain & Spinal Trust Fund Commission indicates that traumatic brain injuries cost Georgians over $1.5 billion annually in medical costs and lost wages. The average yearly expenses to care for people with spinal cord injuries is more than $18 million.
Many well-known college and pro football players are known to have suffered serious medical challenges because of traumatic brain injuries
A study on concussions released in February 2021 from the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium analyzed data from six Division I football programs for a five-year period through 2019. Surprisingly, the study found that a large majority of concussions and traumatic brain injuries occurred during practices rather than games.
Data on brain injuries related to football have led to several rule changes in both the NCAA and NFL meant to reduce the number of concussions. Four years ago, the NCAA banned two-a-day practices, which had been a staple of training camps for decades. The length of preseason practices had also been reduced and certain drills that would often result in direct head-to-head contact were banned.
Several well-known NFL players have retired well before the age of 30, citing the danger of concussions as a primary reason. Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly retired at 28 in 2020 because he could “not play as fast and physical as before.” Chris Borland was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers but retired after just one year in the league.
Meanwhile the list of former pro football players who were confirmed to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head, continues to grow. A brain injury study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine showed that 33 of 34 players tested post-mortem showed clear signs of CTE.
The pervasiveness of CTE led to the filing of a federal lawsuit against the NFL in 2012. The lawsuit alleged that the NFL knew or should have known players who sustain repetitive head injuries are at risk of suffering “… early-onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, depression, deficits in cognitive functioning, reduced processing speed, attention, and reasoning, loss of memory, sleeplessness, moods swings, personality changes, and the debilitating and latent disease known as Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
The case settled in 2013, and the NFL agreed to contribute $765 million to provide medical help to more than 18,000 former players.
Concussions are a serious issue in youth sports as well
Unfortunately, it does not take a sport as violent as football to cause concussions, particularly for youth athletes. A 2019 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that after football (10.4 concussions per 10,000 athlete exposures), girls soccer (8.19 per 10,000) and boys ice hockey (7.69 per 10,000) were close behind. Any sport that involves significant contact with a ball or other athletes has the possibility of causing concussions.
A concussion commonly results in many cognitive, physical, and psychological consequences, as explained by the Georgia Department of Public Health. Georgia recorded nearly 28,000 such injuries in 2016 alone, resulting in well over 7,000 hospital admissions. The largest percentage of injuries came from those in the 10-19 age range, which comprised 21 percent of all registered traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injuries that year.
Georgia’s Return to Play Law
In 2014, Georgia’s “Return to Play Law” went into effect, which created a concussion management and return to play policy that must be followed by all leagues and teams for athletes in Georgia from the ages of 7 to 18. It requires:
- Information be provided to parents or legal guardians outlining the nature and risks of concussions and other head injuries to their children.
- Coaches to receive education on concussion recognition. The Georgia High School Association also requires coaches participate in a free, online course that reviews concussion management strategies.
- Any athlete exhibiting potential concussion symptoms during a game or practice be removed and undergo an evaluation.
- Boys and girls be withheld from participating in a sport following a diagnosed concussion until he or she is medically cleared by a certified healthcare provider.
Any individual or party who does not adhere to the Return to Play Law can face strict legal penalties, including jail time, significant fines and lifetime suspensions from coaching or serving as an administrator for youth sports.
Concussions can have a greater impact on children because their brains are still developing
Studies have shown that concussions can result in serious short and long-term impacts for children, especially since their brains are still developing, according to the Southeast Georgia Health System. Not only are there physical effects, but significant social repercussions, sudden struggles with schoolwork and other everyday challenges are possible.
Additional statistics from the Southeast Georgia Health System indicate:
- 1-in-3 youth concussions happen at practice.
- 1-in-5 high school athletes will suffer a sports concussion at some point during the season and may not even know it.
- 90 percent of diagnosed concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness.
Liability can vary from one situation to another
Different parties can be held liable for head injuries suffered by a youth sports athlete. They include coaches, schools, sports leagues, and physicians. Among these parties, coaches are considered to have a duty to exercise reasonable care in preventing risk to their players.
A school district or 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 or are unable to treat an injured athlete in a timely manner. Physicians can be held liable for misdiagnosing an athlete or providing inadequate treatment.
However, proving liability in these cases is not easy and claims may be subject to defenses, particularly when claims are brought against a school or municipality. It is important that you speak with an experienced attorney if your child is injured in order to understand your rights and preserve your claim.
If someone you know is having physical or behavioral issues because of a confirmed concussion, contact an experienced brain injury attorney
It is difficult to know which party may be liable if a loved one has suffered a concussion that has caused physical issues. Treatment and physical therapy alone can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and other counseling may be needed to help to support behavioral health needs.
Only an experienced concussion or brain injury attorney who has a thorough understanding of Georgia law can help you get the compensation that is deserved. A concussion can cause a debilitating injury with lifelong consequences. You may be eligible to recover funds for lost wages or pain and suffering. The lawyers at The Champion Firm can help you recover the compensation you deserve to help pay for ongoing healthcare and therapy needs.
Have your questions answered about concussions by contacting The Champion Firm through our online form or at 404-596-8044.