Safety First: Brain Injuries And Other Sports Injuries
During the second week of October 2015, a young man named Antoine took the field for Duval High School in Prince George’s County. Antoine is known for being one of the top players in the County. He has a habit of bringing the crowds to their feet. On this night he brought his teammates to a kneel. After a tackle the aspiring young athlete suffered a rare and serious injury to his leg and wrist. Onlookers described his foot as being turned in the opposite direction. His mother and grandfather told reporters that they could barely look at the injury, much less get any sleep that night. The young man spent a reported five hours in surgery following that game. His head coach expects a three-to-six-month recovery. As a senior in high school, Antoine’s college prospects remain undecided and his injury is now connected with his shot at an education.
By the Numbers
Antoine is not alone when it comes to high school sports injuries. The Center for Disease Controlestimates that about 38 million of the nation’s children and adolescents play youth sports each year. High school athletes alone make up about two million sports-related injuries, 50,000 doctor’s appointments, and 30,000 hospitalizations every year. About 3.5 million children under high school age will receive medical treatment for sports-related injuries every year. These are not just one-time traumatic events either, the CDC reports that injuries from overuse account for about half of all middle and high school athlete’s treatment. Over a span of four years children aged 5-18 years old made up 2.4 million sports related emergency room visits. Of these visits about 134, 959 were the result of a traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries can have the long term result of memory loss, lack of concentration, and behavioral changes.
There are many ways to protect children from sports-related injuries. As always, not all accidents can be avoided, but the risk can be lowered. Appropriate safety gear is key. Protecting children while the action is happening can help to reduce the risk of injury and minimize the effect when an injury does happen. Injuries caused from the overuse of a joint or muscle can also be avoided. Pushing tired children to continue using worn out muscles can be a recipe for disaster. Proper nutrition and adequate rest help improve the body’s ability to cope with demanding activities. Help your athlete by making sure they are game-ready on and off the field.
Traumatic Brain Injury
In 2011, Frostburg State University Fullback Derek Sheely died during pre-season football practice of a brain-related injury. In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2013, Sheely’s family alleged that he had been forced to continue with a brutal and dangerous football drill even though he was bleeding from his forehead and had complained to his coaches about headaches.
Although sports-related brain injury lawsuits have been featured prominently in the news over the last several years (for example, the NFL and NHL have both faced lawsuits), this tragic story reminds us that there are real dangers associated with contact sports such as football. Although players often wear helmets, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is still a real and significant risk.
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
A Traumatic Brain Injury, also known as a TBI, usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head. Although some TBIs may be caused by an object piercing or breaking the skull, TBIs can also occur even if the skull remains intact. This is known as a closed-head injury.
Another type of TBI is a minor or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI). Although called “minor,” MTBIs can be quite serious. In some instances, a MTBI can be caused by repeated minor blows or jolts to the brain, rather than one serious blow. Common symptoms of MTBI include:
- Dizziness or loss of balance;
- Memory loss;
- Disrupted vision; and
- Emotional disturbances or irritability
How Can TBIs be Sports-Related?
Sports such as football, baseball, and hockey can cause TBI, particularly MTBI. Although these athletes typically wear helmets, a helmet does not necessarily prevent TBI, as in the case of Derek Sheely. Furthermore, athletes in these sports may be hit repeatedly, increasing their risk of MTBI. The frequency of MTBI in football led Elliot Pellman, the team doctor for the New York Jets, to state that “Concussions are part of the profession, an occupational risk.” Helmets can become old or brittle, and padding can become compressed. The National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association (NAERA) will not recondition or recertify any helmet that is 10 years of age or older.
Maryland Law and Brain-Related Injuries
A person who suffers from a sports-related traumatic brain injury may have several personal injury claims under Maryland law. Precisely what the claim is will depend on the facts of each situation and who is at fault.
For example, a person who is injured from a sports-related TBI may be able to file a products liability lawsuit against the helmet manufacturer. In addition, that person may have a negligence or gross negligence cause of action against coaches, other athletes, or an equipment reconditioner.
Often, the defendant will argue as a defense that the injured person was contributorily negligent – for example, that they continued to play football even after the first signs of an MTBI. However, contributory negligence is not a defense to gross negligence. A defendant may also argue that the injured person assumed the risk of the injury by engaging in a contact sport to begin with. In Maryland, these defenses operate as a complete bar to recovery unlike may comparative negligence states.