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University of Georgia sports law professor Nathaniel Grow wrote a rather provocative post for the Sports Law Blog earlier this week that assessed the concussion crisis as it relates to Major League Baseball.
Grow noted how doctors had confirmed that former MLB player Ryan Freel, who committed suicide a year ago, had CTE. Freel was an aggressive player, who reportedly suffered as many as 10 concussions during his career, “resulting from various plays such as colliding with a teammate in the outfield and getting hit in the head by an errant pick-off throw,” according to Grow.
“Freel’s diagnosis shows that football and hockey players are not the only professional athletes exposed to potential concussion-related injuries.
“Therefore, Freel’s diagnosis raises the question of whether MLB will be the next professional sports league to face a wave of concussion-related lawsuits. It would not be surprising if some affected former baseball players (or their families) file suit against MLB. However, because concussions do not appear to be as widespread in baseball as in football, class action litigation may be less likely. Indeed, with baseball concussions arising from a variety of different causes (collisions on the field, players getting hit with thrown balls, catchers getting hit by foul tips), the injuries alleged by former baseball players will likely prove to be more dissimilar than those involving contact sports such as football or hockey, arguably making class action treatment less appropriate.
“Nevertheless, it might be possible for a group of similarly situated players, such as former catchers, to jointly sue MLB for failing to take greater precautions to prevent their injuries. Should such a class action be filed, MLB would be able to assert many of the same defenses that were available to the NFL in its own concussion-related lawsuits. However, MLB might decide — as did the NFL — that despite these potential defenses such a case carries sufficient negative publicity and litigation risk to warrant a settlement of the claims.”
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