A tentative settlement between the NCAA and thousands of former college athletes might lead to improved awareness and treatment of sports-related concussions. The preliminary settlement would establish a fund to pay for brain testing for former athletes and addresses two other important details: the NCAA would have to toughen return-to-play rules for players who suffer concussions, and the NCAA would not get the complete legal immunity from further concussion lawsuits that it was seeking.
A High-Profile Problem
The problem of concussions, a category of traumatic brain injury (TBI), has received great attention the past few years, especially because of the scale of the problem within the NFL. The NFL last year agreed to a $1 billion settlement with former players and their survivors (although this has been challenged). The NFL suit involved more than 5,000 former players, and took hold in the public consciousness largely because of the spotlight on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a debilitating condition which can develop as a result of many concussions over time.
A Small Step
The potential NCAA settlement involves a much smaller amount – $70 million – but many still see it as an important step. It covers many more individuals, potentially applying to tens of thousands of athletes, both male and female, across many sports. Improving the return-to-play rules would help reduce the effect of concussions, both short- and long-term. The denial of legal immunity for the NCAA is seen as critically important: some plaintiffs have withdrawn from the suit over this issue in the past. Observers note that the NCAA might balk at the settlement because of this immunity issue, but the NCAA’s only public response was to say they were “still examining the conditions.” Even with the current proposal, the NCAA would still get protection from most class action suits.
Doctors, athletes, coaches, and parents have come to recognize the real danger of concussions. With greater awareness has come much better practices. The days of an athlete ‘having his bell rung,’ ‘shaking it off,’ and ‘getting back in the game’ are over. The most dangerous practices, such as one football player “spearing” another with his helmeted head, have been restricted. When a player takes a serious hit, they’re more likely to pulled from the game, and more likely to be properly examined. They won’t be put back in until they’ve properly recovered – which for some players, means never.
Fearing that participation in some sports, such as football, will decline over concussion concerns, some are approaching the problem from another angle: trying to make equipment that better protects athletes. One company, for example, is close to releasing a concussion-resistant football helmet.
Not to be Taken Lightly
Serious sports injuries like concussions need to be taken seriously. While all athletes (or their parents) should be aware of all risks and are responsible for their own safety, there can be other factors. There are incidents when another party might be to blame for a serious injury, due to negligence or reckless behavior or, as in the case of the NFL and CTE, by withholding or suppressing information about the true nature of a risk.
Wilson Kehoe Winingham has experience with relevant personal injury and liability cases, including cases centered on brain injury and spinal cord injury. Call us today for a free consultation. Our phone number is 317-920-6400. Or reach us online to have someone contact you for a discussion of the details of your situation.