One of the conditions that may be encountered in both amateur and professional
athletes is traumatic brain injury (TBI). In our context, TBI will be
used to describe any change in normal brain function that occurs after
the application of violent physical force to the head or upper body.
In today’s post, the personal injury and sports accident lawyer at
the Doan Law Firm will review some of the types of brain injury that may
affect amateur and professional athletes and then describe accepted practices
that are intended to reduce the occurrence and long-term consequences
of such injuries.
A concussion is the most commonly diagnosed type of TBI in athletes and
refers to a transient change in brain function that resolves (“goes
away”) without medical treatment. The symptoms of a concussion are
varied, but typically include at least one of the following “classic” symptoms:
- Brief loss of consciousness
- Drowsiness, including difficulty in waking the victim from sleep
- Confusion / disorientation
- Visual disturbances (e.g. “seeing double”)
- Loss of muscular coordination
- Impairment of cognitive function when performing simple tasks such as mental
arithmetic or counting by a certain number
The presence of any of the above symptoms during, or after, active participation
in contact sports should result in the athlete’s immediate removal
from the field of play, followed by a period of observation and evaluation
by someone with training in the diagnosis and emergency medical management of TBI.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
There has been considerable coverage in the news media of a form of brain
injury known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that
develops slowly over time in athletes who suffer repetitive head injuries
that do not lead to a concussion. CTE is distinguished from other forms
of brain injury in that 1) CTE is not usually associated with the “classic”
symptoms of concussion and 2) CTE develops years after the athlete retires
from, or ceases activity, in contact sports. CTE has been diagnosed most
frequently in professional football players, boxers, and professional
Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS) is a rare, but potentially catastrophic, condition
that develops when an athlete suffers a second concussion before the symptoms
of an earlier concussion have disappeared. Symptoms of SIS typically appear
within minutes of the second injury and often include sudden loss of consciousness,
seizures, and evidence of brain injuries such as dilated pupils and respiratory
arrest. Available data seems to indicate that as many as 50% of SIS victims
will not survive their injury and that, of those that do survive, virtually
100% will suffer some type of life-long neurological disability.
SIS is seen almost exclusively in teenage males, with the only exceptions
being found in those who compete in amateur or professional boxing. The
development of this condition does not appear to be dependent on the severity
of either injury and can appear days or weeks after the first injury.
Preventing TBI and its consequences
It is accepted that injuries of any type, including TBI, will occur during
athletic events. The focus on preventing these injuries should be directed
to 1) preventing TBI through the proper use safety equipment and 2) post-injury
management of TBI.
The function of safety equipment is largely beyond the control of both
athletes and their coaches because manufacturing defects are usually not
detected until the equipment suddenly fails during an event, which is
a relatively rare occurrence.
Coaches and event sponsors do have, however, a duty to monitor their professional
literature for reports of unexpected failure in such equipment. This means
that the most effective means of managing complications of TBI rests with
the prompt identification of TBI followed by measures to limit its impact
on the injured athlete.
Currently, the “best practices” that have been recommended
by medical professionals and the various administrative agencies involved
with athlete safety involve immediate removal of a suspected TBI-affected
athlete from competition and not allowing the athlete to return to the
event until cleared by a medical professional with training in the management
of TBI and its potential complications. These experts also recommend that
any suspected TBI be fully investigated by available medical technology
such as CT or MRI scanning prior to the athlete’s return to training
Why you need a sports injury lawyer to manage your potential brain injury lawsuit
Diagnosis and medical management of TBI is truly a “team effort”
that begins on the sidelines and ends with professional medical care.
Given that there are established guidelines for the proper management
of TBI exist and have been shown to be effective, failure to implement
those practices could be seen as negligence on the part of a coaching
staff and/or school administrators.
If your child suffered a TBI during a sporting event, and you feel that
the injury was not properly evaluated or treated, you should contact a
personal injury lawyer who has experience investigating sports injuries
and their treatment. After hearing the facts surrounding your child’s
injury and reviewing the available evidence, a sports injury attorney
will be able to advise you on the legal options that may be available
to assist you and your child in receiving the compensation you deserve
after such an injury.