At the 2016 PRIMA Annual Conference, Brett Carruthers from Wright Public Entity and the NYSIR and Neda Saric from Munich Re discussed the significant challenges in the prevention of student athlete head injuries. In the public entity world, this is a huge concern for school district administrators, athletic directors and coaches.
One of the biggest problems with head injuries is that historically there has not been a “gold standard” for diagnosing a concussion. These injuries cannot always be clearly defined by diagnostic testing. The diagnosis relies heavily on self-reported symptoms from the patient. Unfortunately, this means athletes can and often do try to shape their responses to the questions in order to stay in the game.
The first concussion law in the United States was the Lystedt Law in New Jersey which was adopted in May 2009. This law required that all parents sign a concussion information form prior to the start of a sports season and the law also establishes protocols that must be followed in the event of a head injury. By 2014 all 50 states had enacted legislation targeting head injury prevention in youth sports. These laws incorporated elements of the Lystedt law and some went even further with their requirements.
The use of baseline testing has been mandated by several states and it is expected that over time most states will require such testing as it is the best way to diagnosis a head injury. There are multiple baseline tests available with the most commonly used being ImPACT. It is felt that baseline testing is the best possible defense in the case a student athlete sustains a head injury because it makes it much easier for the coaches and trainers to determine the extent of the injury and then follow the appropriate protocols.
Federal laws now also require schools to make adequate accommodations for children recovering from TBIs. These accommodations range from providing a tutor or teacher’s aids to allowing for home schooling.
There has been numerous high-dollar liability verdicts around the country due to head injuries sustained in youth sports. At times these cases have also managed to circumvent the sovereign immunity laws in the state. Allegations brought in litigation for youth injury cases have included:
- Failure to recognize
- Failure to respond
- Failure to protect
- Failure to treat
- Failure to fit
- Inadequate equipment
- No trainer
- No EMS
- No baselines
- No protocols
- Cumulative effect
An effective head injury prevention program should include baseline testing. It also includes training for all coaches and athletic trainers in the recognition and response to head injuries. A review of the playing surfaces used in the athletic competitions is also important to ensure all surfaces are meeting generally acceptable standards.
It is important that the program is applied consistently to all athletic programs including cheerleading. If your program only includes varsity athletes, or only certain sports, those emissions could be used against you in litigation in the event an athlete sustained an injury that was not detected because their sport was not in the head injury program.