New Mexico Lawmakers Scurry to Close ‘Loophole’ that Allowed Parents to Circumvent Concussion Protocol

(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from the February 2016 issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter. You can access the full article and issue by visiting here: https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)

In the wake of a controversial situation where the parents of a concussed football player obtained an injunction that allowed their son to circumvent the state’s return-to-play protocol and compete in state championship game, a New Mexico lawmaker has sponsored a bill that would prevent the recurrence of such a scenario in the future.

Last month, Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park) sponsored House Bill 180, which would create an administrative appeals layer, where challenges to the state’s protocol would first have to go to the executive director of the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA), rather than the court system.

“What we want,” McCamley told the media, “is for people to go through the organization that knows the most about this before they go to court.”

McCamley was not alone in his concern. State Sen. Michael S. Sanchez (D-Belen) also introduced Senate Bill 137, which would lengthen the state’s protocol for high school athletes who have suffered a concussion from a seven-day rest period to 10 days. Sanchez’ bill can be viewed here.

The incident that led to the proposed laws involved Shawn Nieto, a running back at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, N.M. In a high school playoff game in December, Nieto suffered what was diagnosed as a concussion by the school’s athletic trainer. Furthermore, he was allegedly knocked unconscious for a period of 20 to 30 seconds, according to Rio Rancho Public Schools Athletic Director Bruce Carver. Thus, the 2010 state law went into effect, which provides that a player must sit one week after he or she “has received a brain injury, and no longer exhibits any sign, symptom or behavior consistent with a brain injury” before they can return to play. This meant that Nieto could not participate in the Class 6A state championship game the following week.

Incensed, the parents found a doctor, Karen Ortiz, who would clear their son. They then took that opinion to State District Judge Alan Malott and sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would allow Nieto to play. Reportedly, Rio Rancho Public Schools attorneys did not attend the hearing, which was held 24 hours before the state championship game. The TRO was granted.

Nieto, the team’s leading rusher over the course of the season, participated in only one play in Cleveland High’s 48-35 victory over Eldorado High. The head coach said his limited play was due to the fact that he had not practiced all week.

Reportedly on the morning of the championship game, Dr. Ortiz wrote a letter to the school district rescinding her clearance, noting the … (To subscribe, visit https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)

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