Potential Sports Injury Claims in University of Maryland Football Player’s Death
Athletes and fans across all amateur, college, and professional sports were in shock upon hearing about the recent death of a University of Maryland Terrapins football player who collapsed during a workout on May 29, 2018. The Baltimore Sun reported that the 19-year-old was had showed signs of extreme heat exhaustion and was unable to stand without assistance after running a set of 110-yard sprints. He had a body temperature of 106 degrees by the time he was transported to a local hospital, which medical professionals consider a hallmark indicator of heat stroke. The player died two weeks later at Cowley Shock Trauma at the University of Maryland Medical Center due to complications from kidney failure, liver trauma, and other medical conditions.
Since the Maryland football player’s death, there have been many questions and concerns raised about the actions of coaches, trainers, individuals within the athletic department, and administration. Notable issues include:
- When the football team’s workout started at 4:15 p.m., the temperature was extremely high.
- There are disputes over whether the victim was able to finish the 10 sets of 110-yard sprints as ordered by the training staff. Some witnesses reported that he was having obvious problems and hyperventilating before completing the workout; school officials stated that the player finished all 10 sets before showing signs of distress.
- Some reports indicate that the player had a seizure around 5:00 p.m. However, the 911 call did not come in until 5:58 p.m. School spokespersons indicated that the time discrepancy was due to onsite efforts to evaluate the victim and cool him down.
- There are concerns about the school’s version of events as compared to other witnesses, who reported that trainers continued to walk the player around the track – at times seemingly carrying him because he was unable to support his own weight.
There are many other questions regarding whether officials followed proper protocols at various stages after the teen showed signs of distress. Certain facts seem to indicate there may have been a failure to exercise reasonable care by the University, which might give rise to a claim for a sports injury lawsuit under Maryland law.
The Extreme Dangers of Heat Stroke
Healthcare providers put heat stroke in the category of medical emergency and strongly recommend calling 911 immediately if a person demonstrates any heat-related symptoms. The reason is that, when the human body’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees or above, there can be immediate affects for various systems. The effects on the body can be related to various factors, but they can impact young people regardless of their level of health.
While waiting for emergency personnel to arrive, medical professionals direct others to provide such first aid measures as:
- Removing any unnecessary clothing;
- Fanning the person while wetting the skin with cool water;
- Applying ice packs to the neck, back, groin, and under the arms;
- When possible immersing the victim in a cool shower or tub of water;
- Submerging the person in a tub of ice water, especially for athletes showing signs of distress.
Physicians note that any delay in calling 911, transporting the victim to the emergency room, or giving first aid can be potentially fatal. Still, witness reports reveal that University of Maryland football coaches and certified athletic trainers failed to make an emergency call for almost one hour. During this time, personnel was walking and carrying the victim around the track instead of providing critical first aid.
Complicated Legal Theories on Liability
Holding sports organizations, teams, leagues, and schools accountable for sports injuries is challenging because players voluntarily engage in competitive action. The theories of liability in a sports injury claim depart from a typical case based upon negligence because of two legal concepts.
- Assumption of Risk: Participants in sports are usually seen as assuming the risk of suffering injury because of the physical nature of the activity. Football players will usually not succeed on a claim of sports injury because there is always a threat of getting hurt from a rough tackle.
- Waivers: In many amateur and school sports, organizers have participants sign a waiver of liability in order to play. They voluntarily sign away the right to sue, so they cannot later bring a claim if they are injured.
Holding Parties Responsible for Misconduct
Despite the legal issues surrounding assumption of the risk and signing waivers, there are sometimes grounds to hold a wrongdoer accountable under certain circumstances. Negligence principles can apply to coaches and those under their direction, so a claimant may be successful if he or she can prove:
- The responsible party owed a duty of care to not expose the victim to unreasonable dangers in connection with sports-related activities;
- That person breached this legal duty;
- The victim suffered injuries due to the breach of care; and,
- The injured person sustained related losses
(Note that, in some situations, a coach may be criminally liable for exposing a player to conditions that put health or life at risk, however such cases are extremely rare)