Posts Tagged ‘CTE’

The Concussion Risk in High School Football

The science behind the statistics published an insightful blog post,  “The Fragile Teenage Brain: An In-depth Look at Concussions in High School Football.” The post explains why teenage brains are so susceptible to injury and provides a glimpse into exactly what happens inside the brain during a concussion. It also provides an excellent explanation of how the head injury problem in football in the 1960s and early 1970s was addressed by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) standard, which established guidelines for sports equipment including football helmets.

The following excerpts from the article are especially revealing:

The compromises of helmet design help explain why there will be no quick technological fix for football concussions. Last October, Jeffrey Kutcher, chairman of the American Academy of Neurology’s sports section, told a committee of United States senators that all the current concussion prevention products being sold were largely useless. “I wish there was such a product (that could prevent concussions) on the market,” he said. “The simple truth is that no current helmet, mouth guard, headband, or other piece of equipment can significantly prevent concussions from occurring… Is extremely unlikely that helmets can prevent concussions the way they prevent skull fractures.” He went on to criticize numerous claims by helmet manufacturers suggesting otherwise, noting that even Riddell’s specialized anti-concussion helmet has only been shown to reduce the rate of concussions by 2.6%.

Coach Rollinson echoes the skeHigh school athletespticism. “Every year, we get more and more parents showing up with some fancy helmet and telling us that this is the one their kid has to use,” he says. “I’m sure they spent a lot of money on that helmet. I know it makes them feel better. So we always say, sure, your kid can use that helmet, but we have to do the fitting. And you know what happens? The helmet doesn’t fit. They spend $1000 on it because the manufacturer makes some crazy claim, but it’s way too big. And then when you fit it properly, the kid says it’s too tight, that it’s not comfortable anymore. But that’s the way it needs to be.

This is a recurring theme among the coaches and trainers at Mater Dei. According to the football staff, the most important helmet factor has little to do with the helmet itself. Instead, it has to do with the way the helmet fits the head. In theory, this is an easy problem to solve: Every NOCSAE approved helmet is fully adjustable. Teenagers, however make the fitting process surprisingly difficult. “Most of the time, the problem is forgetfulness,” says Fernandez. “That’s why we are always reminding the players to check air levels. We tell them that before every single game. But sometimes they leave it loose on purpose, just because he can get hot and sticky in there.”

Concussion Lawsuits Won’t End Football

How insurance and the law impact the concussion concerns

Will Oremus writes a well thought out explanation why concussion lawsuits will not end football. The main reasons cited are:

  • The initial medical expenses resulting from concussions and CTE are often not that high in most cases and symptoms take years to materialize. Therefore, the Accident Medical insurance carried by colleges, schools, and youth football organizations will not be hit hard since such policies limit payouts for medical bills to those that are incurred within one or two years from the date of the injury in most cases. Most CTE symptoms will show up years after a football career is finished and the Accident policy will be off the hook by that time. Therefore, these Accident carriers won’t take a big hit, which means that significant premium increases and market withdrawals are not likely.
  • The General Liability policies carried by schools and universities cover all the liability exposures such as slip-and-fall accidents, kids falling off playground equipment,  injuries at school sponsored events, etc., and concussion lawsuits are only a small portion of the overall risks. In 2011, only 13 catastrophic brain injuries were reported out of 4.2 million football participants nationwide.
  • The concussion and CTE-related lawsuits in the NFL are currently covered under Workers’ Compensation insurance (which overall allows for the collection of lower benefits as compared to civil lawsuits which would be filed under a General Liability policy) even though some 1500 former NFL players have filed lawsuits challenging Workers’ Compensation as the exclusive remedy.
  • The links between concussions and CTE to depression and suicide are not yet rock solid, even though some limited studies show a connection between NFL participation and CTE.
  • In order to win a lawsuit, a player will need to prove negligence (1. Duty owed to act as reasonable governing bodies, administrators, trainers, coaches, etc. in protecting football players, 2. Breach of that duty by not following accepted safety standards, 3. Breach was proximate direct cause of the injury, and 4. Damages resulted). As a result of the difficulty in proving negligence, the NFL lawsuits are alleging that the league knew about the dangers of CTE, but hid it from the players.
  • In lawsuits against colleges and high schools, no one is claiming that they hid evidence that football resulted in CTE. As a result, the lawsuits against colleges high schools are based on failure to follow accepted safety standards on not removing possibly concussed players from games and allowing too early return to play which may result in second concussion syndrome.
  • Even if a public school or university as an entity, or a coach or other school employee is negligent, many states have governmental or sovereign immunity statutes that protect against liability or at least limit liability to an amount such as $300,000, $500,000, or $1,000,000, depending on the state’s version of the law. These immunity statutes can be defeated upon proving gross negligence.
  • Some state concussion statutes also limit the liability of coaches, trainers, and other medical professionals when complying with the requirements of the statute unless they are grossly negligent.
  • The assumption-of-risk defense to negligence can be a powerful tool if the players receive an adequate and documented risk warning of the dangers of concussions.
  • If universities and high schools follow the concussion safety standards outlined by state statutes or their state or national sanctioning/governing body, they have a high level of built-in protection.
  • The governing bodies such as the NFL, NCAA, and National Federation of State High School Associations will implement rule changes to provide more protection as more research results become available.

We encourage you to read Oremus’ full article and our article, “The End of Youth Football? Not so fast.”

Source: Will Oremus, “After Further Review, Why Concussion Lawsuits Won’t Bring An End To Football,”, May 10, 2012.