A recent case involving a San Diego high school football player demonstrates the importance of taking head injuries in sports very seriously. Scott Eveland, now age 22, was a senior in high school when he collapsed on the sidelines during a football game. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors removed a portion of his skull. Their was extensive bleeding inside his brain which caused him to suffer permanent brain damage. Scott is now confined to a wheelchair and must communicate through an iPad or a specially designed keyboard.
The personal injury lawsuit alleged that the coaches had ignored signs of his head injury and continued to let him play. According to a student assistant trainer, warning signs of a concussion were ignored by the coaches. She testified in her deposition that he had headaches and had to sit out parts of practice a week before sustaining the permanent injury. She also stated that minutes before the ultimate injury, Scott had asked his coach to let him sit out the first quarter because his head hurt.
A number of NFL players have also filed suit against their former employers for brain injuries that they alleged were sustained during their playing days. The players accuse the league of intentional and negligent misconduct in response to complaints of headaches and dizziness following head injuries during games. They contend that the cumulative trauma has caused dementia, and other brain related problems. The players contend that for years they were coached to "lead with their heads" in tackling. Players claim that the league has known since the 1920's the potential long term harmful effects of head injuries but concealed the information from the players.
The law in California regarding personal injury claims arising out of sports has evolved over the years. For some time, a player injured in a football claim was deemed to have assumed the risk of such injuries and was barred from suing his school. Later, cases held that the school could be legally responsible for the injury, if school employees increased the risks of the sport over and above what was commonly considered to be a normal risk of injury of that particular activity. The most recent pronouncement of the Supreme Court, in the case of Kahn v East Side Union High School holds that in order to find a school liable for sport injuries, the student must prove that the coach either intentionally caused injury to the student, or acted recklessly in his conduct in a manner which was entirely outside the range of ordinary activity involved in teaching or coaching the sport.
For personal injury claims against employers, such as the NFL players suit, the rules are different. Traditionally, claims by employees were limited to workers compensation benefits. However, if the employer knew that an employee was injured on the job and concealed the extent of the injury from the employee and as a result the injury was made worse, the employee can sue the employer in civil court for traditional remedies associated with personal injury claims.
As an Alameda brain injury lawyer, I have represented numerous TBI clients over the years and seen the great harm these injuries cause. The dangers of concussions during sports activities are now well known. No longer can coaches or other professionals just claim that the player "got his bell rung" and send him back into the game. Concussions are brain injuries. If a coach sees that his player is dazed or stunned, confused about an assignment, forgets an instruction, unsure of a game, score or opponent, moves clumsily, answers questions slowly, loses consciousness, shows mood, or behavior changes, can't recall events prior to a hit or fall, or can't recall events after a hit or fall, these are all signs of a traumatic brain injury. As such they should be taken seriously, and all necessary medical precautions should be taken.
Injury Prevention and Control: Traumatic Brain Injury, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Players Accuse NFL of Negligence, ESPN NFL, August 29, 2011