Suiting up: A fresh season of concussion lawsuits and allegations of league negligence

Consumer protection, Entertainment, Healthcare

With football season finally upon us, American football fans can now turn their attention from the snooze fest that is the preseason to the hard-hitting, no-holds-barred regular season. However, the on-field drama often comes with damage, the extent of which has come to light in a slew of recent sports-related concussion lawsuits.

Former professional athletes continue to pursue their claims in various courts, proving the connection between high-impact contact sports like football, hockey or soccer and resulting concussions and brain damage.

The following reviews the status of some high-profile concussion lawsuits, as well as offers suggestions on the best ways to protect your own athlete if you have a child or loved one suiting up for a season of high-impact sports.

Sports and suicide: Junior Seau’s family rejects the NFL’s settlement offer

In one of the most devastating and widely-reported cases of impact sports causing brain damage, former Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau ended his own life in 2012 after a long battle with depression. A neurological pathologist examined Seau’s brain and discovered the presence of a condition known as traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by repeated head trauma known to result in depression and dementia.

Seau’s surviving loved ones are pressing forward with a wrongful-death lawsuit against the NFL, claiming it has a duty to protect players from known and foreseeable risks of harm. Seau’s family recently revealed to ESPN that it planned to reject any offers to settle from the league and is dedicated to exposing the dangers of consistent and repeated blows to the head.

Seau played in the NFL for 20 seasons and was a former member of the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

NFL concussion lawsuit: Federal judge approves revised settlement

The long road toward a settlement between the NFL and nearly 4,500 plaintiffs alleging injury due to chronic brain traumas came to a conclusion this summer when U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody approved the final settlement.

The NFL originally offered to cover lifelong payouts and medical expenses for injured players and their families up to $675 million. The revised settlement eliminates the damages cap and implements a complex formula for determining an appropriate amount of compensation for players with neurological damage.

The formula takes into account players’ age and extent of illness, including a $5 million payout for a young retiree with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a $1.6 million payout for a middle-aged retiree with Alzheimer’s disease, or a mere $25,000 payout for an 80-year-old retiree with early-onset dementia.

The NFL also agreed to pay for baseline testing, as well as advance $10 million for medical research and testing. Additionally, the league has agreed to pay out $112 million in players’ attorneys’ fees.

Protecting the future: NCAA settles with students over concussion allegations

In a settlement reached earlier this year between the NCAA and thousands of one-time college players, the NCAA has agreed to a list of terms and conditions in response to extensive allegations of failure to protect vulnerable student athletes from harm. The agreement includes the following:

  • Mandatory baseline testing for all athletes across all sports, even if competing in more than one;
  • Revised return-to-play policies, including a prohibition from returning to the game on the same day as a diagnosis of concussion. This term addresses the results of a 2010 study revealing nearly 50 percent of student athletes were asked to return to play on the same day as suffering a concussion;
  • Mandatory presence of medical personnel at games and availability at practices across all contact sports. The term “contact sport” was construed to include football, lacrosse, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey, soccer and basketball. In addition, medical personnel must be specifically trained in recognizing, treating and managing concussions;
  • Implementation of protocols to track and report concussions;
  • Provision of NCAA-approved training for athletes, coaches and trainers prior to the start of each season;
  • Education for academic faculty on necessary accommodations for students suffering from the effects of a concussion.

Protecting the pee wees

Parents of younger players should not only make certain their child is equipped with the safest headgear and equipment at the start of the season, but also should review their league’s concussion policies to ensure players are protected from unnecessary brain damage and neurological impact.

While there is no current comprehensive policy covering child athletes, many districts are taking a proactive approach modeled after the professional and collegiate protocol. What’s more, some states are stepping forward by enacting legislation designed to outlaw hard-hitting plays, limit student playing time and reduce the number of full-contact practices.

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