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Traumatic Brain Injuries & Sports

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A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is brain damage that occurs as a result of a blow or sudden jolt to the head. These injuries can occur in a number of different ways, but many victims sustain TBIs while playing sports. How many athletes suffer TBIs every year? Who can these athletes hold accountable for their injuries? Here’s what you should know:

Sports-Related TBI Statistics

Athletes can suffer various injuries while playing sports, but few are as serious as a TBI. In fact, the leading cause of death from sports-related injuries is brain damage. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) estimates that about 21% of all TBIs are sustained in sports-related activities. Sadly, many of these victims are children under the age of 18 who are injured while playing sports for their school or a community league. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 330,000 minors were treated in emergency rooms for sports-related TBIs in 2012 alone. The actual number of minors who suffered sports-related TBIs in 2012 is probably much higher since many victims are treated in physicians’ offices instead of emergency rooms.

All athletes are at risk of suffering brain damage, but some sports are more dangerous than others. The AANS reports that cycling, football, baseball, softball, and basketball are the sports that cause the greatest number of brain injuries every year.

The Effects of TBIs

TBIs are classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the extent of the brain damage. Most athletes who are sustain brain injuries are diagnosed with a concussion, which is a type of mild TBI. Even though a concussion is not the most severe type of TBI, it can still cause long-term serious consequences. It can take weeks or months to fully recover from a concussion. However, athletes that suffer multiple concussions can develop permanent brain damage.

Athletes that suffer moderate or severe TBIs have a much longer road to recovery. These injuries can cause athletes to lose consciousness for hours, days, and even weeks. Severe TBIs are often fatal, so athletes who suffer this type of injury may never regain consciousness. Athletes who regain consciousness may need countless hours of rehabilitation to relearn basic skills such as speaking and walking.

It is hard to predict how an athlete will be affected by a brain injury. Every TBI is unique, so the short and long-term effects of this injury can vary dramatically from case-to-case.

TBI Guidelines For Schools in Iowa

Lawmakers in Iowa passed concussion legislation that applies to coaches, students, and parents of students who engage in sports-related activities governed by the Iowa High School Athletic Association or Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. The law requires parents and students to review and sign a brain injury information sheet every school year. If the parent or student does not sign this sheet, the student will not be able to participate in sports at school.

To comply with these laws, coaches must immediately remove a student athlete from play if there is a chance the athlete could have suffered a concussion. For example, if a student is hit in the head and briefly loses consciousness, the coach is legally required to remove the student from the game.

The law also states that athletes who have been removed from the game for these reasons cannot return to play until they have been cleared to do so by a medical professional. The professional must be a licensed healthcare provider who is trained to evaluate and treat concussions and other head injuries. Athletes who would like to return to play must present clearance in writing.

Liability For Sports-Related TBIs

The law clearly outlines how schools in Iowa must manage athletes that are believed to be suffering from a brain injury. This law was established to ensure that student athletes received proper medical treatment as soon as possible after an injury. It was also designed to prevent injured athletes from staying in the game or attempting to play before they are fully recovered. But unfortunately, the laws are not effective if schools are not compliant with them.

The school district could be held liable if a child suffers a brain injury as a result of a school employee’s failure to comply with this law. For example, if a coach refuses to take a player out of a game even though the player is exhibiting obvious signs of a concussion, the school district could be liable. This is because the law requires every coach to immediately remove players from the game if it is believed that they could have a brain injury.

School districts can be held liable in other situations, too. In 2015, a school district in Iowa was ordered to pay a high school football player $1 million in a negligence lawsuit. The plaintiff suffered a concussion during practice and later went to the school nurse complaining of double vision and dizziness, which are two obvious signs of a brain injury. The school nurse failed to inform the student’s coaches that the student could be suffering from a concussion, so he continued to play football. His condition eventually worsened, and a result of the nurse’s negligence, he is permanently disabled. This case illustrates that school districts can be held liable for the negligence of their employees in brain injury lawsuits.

Have you sustained a sports-related TBI? If so, contact Trial Lawyers for Justice today to schedule a consultation regarding your case. Our team of experienced personal injury attorneys will fight tirelessly to recover compensation for the losses you have suffered as a result of your injuries. Call our law office today to learn more about your legal options.

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Trial by Human

Nick Rowley founded Trial by Human, a nationwide legal education course to help trial lawyers improve their skills in the courtroom by "being human".