North Carolina Return to Play Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on Such Protocols
(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from the recent issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter. To read the full article, please subscribe at https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)
By Gary Wolensky, Anne Marie Ellis, and Paul Alarcon, of Buchalter (www.buchalter.com)
On Sept. 27, 2014, 17-year-old Isaiah Langston, a Rolesville High School football player, suffered a concussion-producing collision with another teammate during a team practice.
According to a lawsuit recently filed by Langston’s family in North Carolina, Rolesville’s failure to properly respond to this concussion led to the teen’s death. In its complaint, the family alleges that while Rolesville’s coaches and staff checked Langston and sat him out for the remainder of practice, they never notified his parents of his injury and subsequently allowed Langston to return two days later to participate in pre-game drills and warm-ups without obtaining any medical clearance. The family alleges that Langston began complaining of head pain during these drills and then collapsed and died shortly thereafter.
In its lawsuit, Langston’s family alleges that Rolesville violated North Carolina’s “Return to Play” laws enacted to prevent concussion-related injuries arising when a youth sports participant returns to play after suffering a concussion. Return to Play laws have been enacted in some form by every state in the country in response to the changing landscape of concussion awareness in youth sports. Such laws are intended to increase awareness and care in addressing concussions. Specifically, Return to Play laws generally impose educational, training and notification requirements designed to ensure that coaches, parents, and youth athletes are better educated about the signs and risks of concussions.
The Return to Play laws enacted in California are among the most robust in the country. Specifically, California’s Education Code imposes an array of concussion and head-injury related obligations on any school districts, charter schools, and private schools that offer an athletic program. See, e.g., Cal. Educ. Code § 49475(a). If a coach or administrator suspects that an athlete sustained a concussion or head injury, the athlete must be removed from play for the remainder of the day as well as receive an evaluation from a licensed health care practitioner with expertise in concussion-related injuries. Id. at § 49475(a)(1). If no concussion is diagnosed, the athlete must receive a written medical clearance before returning to practice. Id. If a concussion is diagnosed, then the athlete must complete a graduated return-to-play protocol for seven days under the supervision of a health care practitioner. Id. Lastly, athletes and their parents must sign an annual concussion and head-injury information sheet. Id. at 49475(a)(2).
Additionally, California recently dramatically expanded the scope of its Return to Play laws. Specifically, California’s new statutory requirements …