Not every traumatic brain injury results in debilitating injuries. Victims commonly experience mild brain trauma as a result of falls, automobile accidents, and sports accidents. These injuries ordinarily require little in the way of rehabilitation. However, repeated injuries can result in serious harm and the mild nature of concussions makes some parties dismiss their importance. Athletes are particularly at risk for repeated injuries.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that results from a sudden acceleration or deceleration of the skull, causing the brain to exceed the protective threshold normally offered by a layer of cerebrospinal fluid. This occurs when sudden forces are imparted onto the skull, resulting in an injury that is less severe than other brain injuries. Victims of a concussion may experience poor coordination, headaches, tinnitus, and distorted vision. Inattentiveness and behavioral problems may also result.
Treating a concussion is simple. Concussions normally call for rest, low-intensity physical activity, and mild painkillers taken with the consent of the treating physician. However, some concussions can be more serious. While concussions are almost never fatal, suffering a second concussion while suffering from an initial concussion may result in serious brain injury. A second impact may result in dangerous and potentially fatal brain swelling. Additionally, a history of multiple concussions sustained over a long period of time can result in irreversible brain damage.
Civil Liability, Concussions, and Sports
Concussive injuries commonly occur as a result of accidents during sporting events; according to the United States Centers for Disease Control, roughly 300,000 concussions are reported every year as a result of sporting activities. Helmets and neck braces can help to reduce the forces imparted onto the head and neck, decreasing the extent to which a victim becomes injured, but injuries occur regardless. Contact sports such as football and boxing are common sources of sports-related concussions.
Sporting events that result in injuries do not always result in civil liability. When engaged in a sporting event, players normally assume the risk that they will suffer an injury. If the player understands the risk and knowingly waives his or her right to recovery, the player will be precluded from recovering damages. Written waivers are common features of sporting events for this reason.
However, in a push to provide skilled athletes to games against rival teams, some coaches encourage athletes to “play through the pain,” or play the game regardless of the player’s injuries. Since most concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness, many go undiagnosed. Dismissing a concussion as a headache and failing to recognize the signs of a traumatic brain injury is a common and potentially fatal mistake. If the coach should have recognized the extent of the injury and encouraged the athlete to play, the coach would ordinarily be liable for negligence and any institution employing the coach may be vicariously liable for the coach’s negligence as well as being liable for its own. This is the case unless the injured party assumed the risk of the injury.
Courts in different states apply the assumption of risk doctrine differently. For example, in New York, a court is likely to hold that the plaintiff assumed the risk if he or she engaged in a non-compulsory sporting event, as any New York brain injury lawyer can tell you. Across the country in California, courts tend to apply a comparative fault analysis to an assumption of risk defense. Some states analyze whether the risk itself was reasonable, some states focus on whether the plaintiff knowingly assumed the risk, some states generally ignore the assumption of risk doctrine, and some states uphold it in the absence of willful or reckless conduct.
How a particular state applies the assumption of risk doctrine will be the difference between a judgment in favor of the plaintiff and a summary judgment in favor of the defendant. If the sporting event was mandatory, if the coach ordered the player to play with a concussion, or if the player himself understood the risks, a court may be more likely to provide some equitable relief to the plaintiff. The circumstances surrounding the injury and the locally preferred interpretation of the assumption of risk doctrine will be dispositive of the issue.
Hundreds of thousands of concussions occur every year. Repeated concussions can cause long-term damage and even death. Concussions are mild brain injuries, but brain injuries nonetheless. What appears to be a concussion may mask a more serious injury such as a subdural hematoma or fractured skull. Anyone who suffers ill effects as a result of a blow to the head should seek prompt medical attention. If the blow was a result of another party’s reckless conduct, seek experienced legal counsel in your jurisdiction.
Anthony Joseph is a freelance author who writes about various legal matters, and is contributing this article for the purpose of raising awareness about brain injuries. Every New York brain injury lawyer at the Bottar Leone firm has a wealth of knowledge and experience involving brain injury cases. They have a full grasp on the medical and legal issues that are involved in proving how a brain injury occurred.