Ironically, it both protects and increases liability
Recent state legislation set guidelines for youth athletes returning to play following a diagnosed concussion. The New York Times published an article on the new laws and the need for increased education among doctors, coaches, parents and players on return-to-play protocols for concussed athletes. It stated in part:
“A Washington state law that mandates strict procedures for handling youth athletes’ concussions has served as a template for similar policies. It has helped shape laws in several other states….
“Modern guidelines state that athletes of all ages and in all sports, after sustaining a concussion, should not return to play until they display no symptoms (like dizziness, headaches, nausea or sensitivity to light or sound) both before and after gradually increasing physical exertion. It is less known that students feeling symptoms should be advised not to tax their cognitive function by playing video games or even studying too hard.
Where things go awry
One player’s mother asked her school district to incorporate a baseline neuropsychological testing program to help evaluate when a player has recovered and can return to play, according to the article. She was told that such testing, “due to liability and legal issues, is not recommended either by the insurance provider” or the state’s interscholastic activities association.
“If you purchase the program, you better be using it consistently and properly, because if you don’t, that opens up liability,” according to a source from the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool. “If you don’t own it at all, then you do not have that liability, and you are not responsible.”
The national media has recently covered high profile lawsuits involving serious injuries and deaths resulting from players returning to action too soon after a concussion and suffering a second, serious or fatal injury. In addition, studies on NFL athletes have highlighted concerns over the long-term effects of repeated concussions.
A number of groups have recently lobbied Congress and state legislatures for the passage of concussion protection laws such as the Lystedt Law referenced in the article. Many experts are trying to set new standards for more advanced concussion care, including a pre-season neuropsychological cognitive test to establish a baseline for comparison after a concussion. It is believed that comparing the post-injury test to the pre-injury baseline is the best way to determine appropriate return-to-play protocol.
A cost of preventing concussions
However, such testing can cost up to $10.00 per athlete and requires administrative scheduling and expense. In addition, once a sports organization adopts any safety standard, failure to fully implement can result in liability. “If you purchase the program, you better be using it consistently and properly, because if you don’t, that opens up liability,” according to a source from the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool. “If you don’t own it at all, then you do not have that liability, and you are not responsible.”
The testing normally involves hiring a firm to bring in computer equipment with specialized software to a predetermined location to administer testing for all program athletes that can take up to 30 minutes per athlete.
The debate and discussion on the topic of sports concussions and return-to-play protocol will result in better educated medical professionals, coaches, trainers, and parents.
I recommend that you read the New York Times article in its entirety.