(Editor’s note: What follows is an excerpt from an article written by Karl Friedrichs, Partner in Locks Law Firm, that appears in the September issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter, along with nine other articles)
Last week’s headlines reporting a proposed $765 million settlement between the National Football League (NFL) and retired players validates concerns about the dangers of head injuries in football and other contact sports. The litigation involved allegations that the League did not adequately protect the players against the dangers of blows to the head, and also, knew of the health risks that resulted from such brain trauma and failed to disclose them to its current and former employees. Beyond these players, however, there is a larger population of young athletes who continue to be at risk and who may benefit most from the awareness that the NFL concussion litigation has brought to the public. In fact, based upon tangible examples of concussions causing deaths in young people, it is not an overstatement to conclude that the knowledge uncovered in the NFL litigation may save lives.
The science behind concussions has revealed the cause, but no accurate means of prevention. Moreover, a collection of information on the effect of concussions on individuals has clearly demonstrated that there is no pattern regarding how it will impact one person versus another. One thing that medical specialists have established is that concussions affect youths differently than adults. Second Impact Syndrome, or SIS, only affects kids or young adults under the age of 25. It’s a term that dates back to 1984, when two authors, Richard L. Saunders, MD, and Robert E. Harbaugh, MD, writing for The Journal of the American Medical Association, described a scenario where a head injury, resulting in Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS), is followed by another blow to the head, before the brain has healed, which can result in brain swelling or death. PCS is a broad term for all of the symptoms that can arise following a head injury.
At the forefront of current day research into the dangers of SIS is Robert C. Cantu, M.D., co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University. Cantu, the co-author of the recently published book, Concussions and Our Kids, looks for 26 symptoms of PCS in the adolescent patients he sees in his clinic every week. These kids include all types of athletes and both genders. Perhaps, surprisingly, it has been broadly reported that girls are twice as likely as boys to sustain a concussion playing sports such as soccer, lacrosse, hockey or cheerleading. Regardless of this finding, the root concern in 2013 is related to boys playing football. Dr. Cantu’s research into the effect of concussions on the developing brain has led him to recommend that kids not play tackle football until they are at least 14 years of age.
Cantu’s advice has far-reaching legal effects on youth football. According to its website, 250,000 youths participated in Pop Warner football in 2010, a program tailored for kids ages five to 14. However, it is the parents, not the kids, who must give legal consent for their children to participate in this organization. Therefore, a quarter of a million young people in 2010 were placed in an environment where it was left to their parents to decide whether or not they should participate in a potentially dangerous sport.
Since that time, 49 states have enacted legislation addressing concussions in youth sports and the prevention of SIS, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (to continue reading, visit https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/concussion-litigation-reporter/concussion-litigation-reporter-september-2013/)