California Youth Sports Concussion Law Ramped Up

State aspires to greater concussion education and caution

A California youth sports concussion law that broadens the current return-to-play law went into effect January 1, 2017.

The previous return-to-play legislation only applied to scholastic sports, as is the case in many jurisdictions across the country. The new law applies to all youth sports organizations that are defined as camps, competitions or clubs in which participants are under the age of 18.

The changes involved

The additional law surrounding youth sports concussions and head injuries could result in significant changes in operations for many organizations. Specific stipulations in the law include:

  • Concussion and head injury information must be distributed to and signed by athletes and parents/guardians every year prior to play. The material must include information regarding head injuries, potential consequences of such injuries, concussion signs and symptoms, best practices for athlete removal from play upon suspicion of a concussion, and return to play.
  • Every organization’s coaches and administrators must be offered concussions/head injury education and/or materials every year. Education materials must include the same information as that distributed to parents and athletes.
  • Immediate removal of any athlete suspected of suffering a head injury. Athletes can only resume play upon submission of written clearance from a licensed healthcare professional trained in concussion management. Athletes diagnosed with a concussion or head injury will only resume participation on a gradual return-to-play protocol for no fewer than seven days under the supervision of a licensed healthcare provider.
  • Parents/guardians of athletes suspected of suffering a head injury or concussion must be notified of the date/time the injury occurred, the symptoms displayed and the treatment received.
  • Youth sports organizations must identify the procedures that were adopted or adapted to comply with the new law.

Liability fallout

The new law could spark interesting legal scenarios:

  • The new higher standards of care and increased obligations could be the basis for an injured athlete suing for negligence.  An organization’s procedures and implementation will have to comply fully with the law’s requirements to meet the duty of care owed under the law of negligence.
  • Any youth sports organization that doesn’t provide the mandated information and education to athletes, parents and coaches prior to play will likely have more difficulty in relying on assumption of risk defense and waiver/release for protection.
  • The youth sports organization’s obligation to to provide greater education for and oversight of all coaches means they will have a duty of general supervision to make sure that coaches receive the proper training and make the right decisions.
  • Sports equipment manufacturers and distributors may be able to avoid liability based on an alleged equipment defect if they can show the sports organization failed to comply with the law.

New California Law Likely To Be Adopted By Other States

It’s likely that California’s broader concussion law will spur similar changes in other states. All 50 states and the District of Columbia already have concussion laws on the books, and there is both a need and demand for more comprehensive concussion education efforts for coaches, players and parents – particularly in the areas of removing suspected injured players from play and returning injured players.

The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control offers sports organizations resources on complying with the law. We invite you to peruse our extensive library of articles on concussions and brain injuries on our blog and check out our free concussion risk management material.


Source: Anne Marie Ellis and Paul A. Alarcon. “New California Law Will Change Youth Sports Concussion Cases.” www.lexicology.com. 23 March, 2017.