Massachusetts Legal Blog
Student Athletes and TBI: the Push to Get Back on the Field
For years, there has been controversy surrounding athletes and the injuries they suffer while on the field. Extensive studies done on the brains of deceased NFL players show alarming evidence of widespread brain damage; and the 2015 movie Concussion highlighted the danger even more.
But the problem of athletes sustaining traumatic brain injuries is not limited to professional play. Elementary, middle, and high school players face the same risks; and it poses the question: who is responsible when that risk becomes a reality?
Who Pays the Medical Bills?
While it may be easy for parents to blame coaches or the school after their child sustains an injury during play, neither of these parties is legally responsible for an initial injury. There is some assumption of risk when a student is allowed by his parents to participate in sports that carry risk of injury, such as football.
Should a player become injured during the course of play, his parents will be responsible for paying for medical expenses.
There is one exception to this, and that is when a student athlete is playing for a college. All college athletes are required by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to carry health insurance for medical expenses related to injuries they sustain while playing their sport. The only exception to this bylaw is if a student’s team is playing in a championship event. In that case, students are fully covered by NCAA through its Participant Accident Program; the NCAA will pay all costs for injuries.
What About When Kids Are Sent Back Out with Concussions?
But this isn’t the situation most parents are facing. Most parents are simply cheering their son on while he tries to score a touchdown; or their daughter on when she drives toward the goal. While parents are responsible for paying expenses after an injury, it’s a different matter when a child has been injured and then encouraged to go back on the field and play.
Truthfully, most teenagers won’t recognize the signs of a concussion even if they have one. Couple that with a coach who wants his best player back on the field, and it’s asking for trouble.
Massachusetts has passed a state law trying to prevent this from happening. Under this law, when a child has been injured and is showing concussion-like symptoms, he is to be immediately removed from play and advised to see a doctor for further treatment. But a survey taken in 2016 showed that half of the students who were injured and showing signs of a concussion went on to play that same day!
If a child was showing symptoms of a concussion or other traumatic brain injury and was told to go back in and play anyway, the parents could have a lawsuit against the school. Knowingly breaking state law would definitely show negligence on the part of the coaches. Possibly the school, if school officials knew about the incident or about the coach’s history of sending players back out regardless of dangerous symptoms.
Brain Injuries in Children
It usually starts with a headache—a sometimes-sign of serious brain injury, particularly in children. After suffering concussions, some student athletes reported suddenly having their memory wiped out, being unable to recall events that had happened just a year before. Falling levels of consciousness, unusual drowsiness, and inability to pay attention are all symptoms that could indicate a player has sustained a concussion.
As time goes on, students who play through multiple concussions may show signs of brain damage. They may not be able to display self-monitoring behavior or impulse control, and may become extremely uninhibited. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or widespread and irreversible brain damage, impairs cognitive processes such as thinking, remembering, and reading.
Let’s not forget other TBIs. Epidural and subdural hematomas—bleeding in the brain—can occur when a portion of the skull becomes detached and starts to bleed inside. These, and more, are all serious injuries that can affect a person for the rest of his or her life.
Many things can go wrong on a football field, basketball court, track, or wherever children and teenagers are engaging in high-intensity sports. And while traumatic brain injuries are rare, they certainly do happen. When they do, parents need to understand what their options are and who else may be responsible. Even minor injuries, or concussions that don’t seem serious at first, can have long-term effects, particularly when they occur in children.
When in doubt, sit them out. We’re proud of our sports in Massachusetts, but that’s nothing against our kids’ well-being. If you think your child’s coach or organization pushed him or her to play through a concussion, you may have a claim. Call our Burlington personal injury lawyers at DiBella Law Offices, P.C., (781) 262-3338, for a free consultation.
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