KANSAS CITY, Mo. - At the professional and major college level, football is a game played by large men who run very fast. It's also a contact sport, and that means it's a game full of violent collisions that often result in injury. One particular football-related injury – the concussion – has become the subject of great legal debate.
A concussion is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head or the body. The impact causes the brain to shake and bump up against the skull. While there often are no physical signs of an injury, a concussion can result in several medical problems ranging from slight to severe:
- Memory loss
- Long-lasting problems with movement, speaking, or learning
Those long-lasting problems have taken the issue of concussions into America's courtrooms. In recent years, several former National Football League players have sued the league over its alleged negligence in dealing with concussions. Earlier this year, former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson committed suicide, leaving behind a note asking that his brain be tested in order to better understand the effects of brain trauma. Doctors later confirmed that Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.
Now, the NCAA is facing a legal challenge from former college football players who endured multiple concussions on the field. Three former college players are plaintiffs in a class action suit that claims the NCAA has been negligent in handling concussions. The attorney heading up the lawsuit says the goal is to get the NCAA to take concussions seriously and to make a concerted effort to prevent them. The NCAA claims it has not been negligent and has been "at the forefront of safety issues."
"But concussions aren't limited to the highest levels of sports," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV . "They're also happening at an alarming rate at the high school level."
Statistics show 135,000 children ages 5-18 are treated in emergency rooms for sports-related traumatic brain injuries each year. In fact, children are more susceptible to concussions than adults.
Many states are beginning to take notice. Indiana recently passed legislation that requires student-athletes to be removed from the game immediately if they are suspected to have suffered a head injury. In order to return to the field, an athlete must be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in head trauma.
"This type of regulation is the right move in terms of player safety, but it could also save school districts money in legal expenses," says Kansas City attorney Victor Bergman of Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman .
In September, parents of a student in Oregon sued their school district after their son's high school football coaches allegedly allowed him back into the game after getting a concussion. He now suffers from brain damage. In 2009, a Missouri family won a $3 million settlement from their son's school district after suing for failure to remove him from a football game after he suffered a concussion.