There have been many recent news reports about concussion injuries suffered by current and former football players. These reports have prompted a spate of legal battles currently in state and federal courts. The NFL, for example, is defending against a class action lawsuit that could cost billions of dollars to settle with its players union. The NCAA is defending against another lawsuit brought by numerous former college players. There are also cases in lesser courts, involving lesser known players. One of these cases in a district court in Illinois was initiated by a former Illinois high school football player. He has filed a class-action suit against the Illinois High School Association, claiming negligence in the management of how concussions and other injuries are handled by the association.
Concussions, What Exactly Are They?
A concussion may occur when an object hits someone in the head, causing the brain to move and strike the inside of the skull. This trauma could cause bleeding, nerve deficiencies in any or all of the senses or even death. Concussions vary from person to person. Some types of trauma can kill one person when the same hit or type of accident may only knock another person unconscious for a short time. Concussions are obviously bad for the brain and each successive concussion brings additional complications and risks of permanent damage.
Neurologists agree that high-impact sporting activities bring a significant risk of head injuries. Athletes are trained to increase muscle mass and speed. This combination creates unsafe contact in ways that were not possible years ago when the games were invented. The safeguards need to be improved in order to protect participants from suffering permanent injuries.
Current Big Name Class-action Suits
As mentioned above, the NFL is currently in negotiations with the players’ union over past and future medical bills that the players must pay as a result of the myriad of injuries sustained during their tenure as professional athletes. A Federal court judge has declined a settlement offer of $765 million dollars saying that it is insufficient to cover the past, current and anticipated future bills that thousands of NFL players will have to pay for treatment. This case will likely have to be settled in the billions of dollars before the judge is satisfied that there will be enough funds to cover all possible losses.
The NCAA is in negotiations with many former players and has made an offer in the neighborhood of $75 million dollars. Critics claim that this does not, in any way, bring enough money to the negotiating table to help the players. A large portion of this $75 million is already committed to past medical expenses, attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses. The NCAA has no provision to compensate those hurt the most–the players–as they not only play for no pay, but are not entitled to any royalty rights that their work-product creates for the schools. Yes, they do get their education paid for, but some say that the price is too high for that education, considering the permanent injuries many suffer from playing for these institutions of higher learning.
Most disturbing is the recent apparent suicide of a current Ohio State football player. It appears that he took his own life after in response to head pain and other cognitive symptoms that he experienced after just a few years on the college football field. This case could bring the concussion issue at the college level to the forefront of concerns for these institutions.
High School Sports at Risk
The lawsuit brought by a former high school player in Illinois will likely be the proverbial tip of the iceberg in the debate on concussions in sports. The attorney for the claimant, Joseph Spirut, has eyes on the entire high school sporting system and plans on bringing similar suits in all 50 states for players at the high school level.
This case and others will likely bring significant changes to football and other activities. There are already some repercussions at younger levels, as parents are not enrolling some children in Pee-Wee or Pop Warner football programs at the same rate as before because of the fear of concussions. These debates are serious and the consequences severe when suits of this magnitude are pursued.
What Can Help?
The business of football is big in our country and will most likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. Recommendations are being made to lessen the chances of concussions in football. These include the lowering of the intensity level during practices, changing or adding more rules which disallow hard hits, and other actions that could more easily cause damage to the brain. Some of these changes have occurred in the NFL, as helmet to helmet hits are severely penalized, and more unnecessary roughness calls are being made. The issue for most, however, is the hits sustained by youth in their formative years that many experts claim can cause the most damage.
America needs to take a good hard look at our favorite sport(s) and recognize that changes need to be made to help protect players, particularly young players, from permanent brain damage sustained while playing their games. If you or a family member has been injured while participating in organized sporting events, it is important to seek proper medical care. It is also recommended to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney, like the ones at Bighorn Law, to explore issues of negligence that may need to be pursued.