Fall 2012 Symposium
Once thought to be a badge of honor that doctors could quickly “cure” with a sniff of smelling salt, concussions have now become the subject of litigation that could threaten the future of football and other contact sports. Recent medical studies consistently show serious long-term effects for athletes who have had multiple concussions, including serious brain trauma and reduction in life expectancy. Where re-entering the game after a concussion, or even the week after a concussion, used to be common practice, there is an increasing burden on team physicians and the athletes themselves to consider the implications of going back onto the field. In light of this research, the four major American sports leagues have implemented concussion policies and procedures, but many question if these policies alone are sufficient to protect the athletes from permanent injuries.
The pending litigation against the National Football League by over 500 of its former players will be the first case to address the question of concussions on a larger scale. At its heart are tort law questions of duty, causation, and assumption of risk by athletes, trainers, and administrators in responding to these injuries. How should courts allocate liability in such cases?
Further, this is a problem that transcends professional football, extending both to high school athletes and to female athletes. In fact, women’s soccer is the sport with the second highest amount concussions after football, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that nearly two million teenage athletes suffer brain injuries every year.