Settlement agreements have recently been reached in two unprecedented concussion lawsuits. The first, a lawsuit by former NFL players, received prominent media attention early in July 2014. Later in the month, a settlement agreement was also reached in a concussion-related lawsuit against the NCAA.
Although they have generated significant controversy in terms of whether the settlement agreements are adequate for the injured players, these two settlement agreements will set the bar in future head injury lawsuits. Perhaps more importantly, both agreements included provisions that require increased monitoring of current and former athletes who may have received head injuries. This is a significant step toward reducing the dangers that head injuries pose to college and professional athletes.
The NCAA lawsuit began in 2011, when a group of former athletes filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that the NCAA negligently failed to safeguard its athletes from the risks of concussions and head injuries. The initial lawsuit sought damages for personal injuries, lost earnings, medical expenses, and other compensatory damages.
Under the settlement agreement, the NCAA will set aside $75 million for medical monitoring and research related to concussions. Of that $75 million, $70 million will be placed in a fund to diagnose brain trauma in current and former NCAA athletes that played football, hockey, soccer, and other contact sports. The other $5 million will go to fund research on head-related injuries.
As part of the settlement, the NCAA has agreed to implement a uniform policy that will govern colleges’ “return-to-play” procedures. This policy will detail how players who receive a head blow are treated and when they can return to play. However, no money will be given to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – the NCAA continues to deny the plaintiffs’ allegations. Instead, the players will be allowed to file separate personal injury lawsuits.
Dangers of Sports-Related Concussions
In part because of the lawsuits against the NFL and NCAA, concussions have turned into a national issue. For example, earlier in 2014 the White House hosted a conference on sports-related concussions. Although the attention of scientists, doctors, the media, sports leagues, and others to the issue is a positive development, it is important to remember that concussions happen frequently in a variety of different sports at a variety of different levels. Among children younger than 19, concussion-related visits to the emergency room have increased 62 percent from 2001 to 2009.
For those who have suffered a concussion-related injury, a personal injury lawsuit may be the only way to receive much-needed help. Although medical insurance may cover some of the bills, insurance will not cover lost earnings, pain and suffering, or other compensatory damages.
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