Let's review how to recover damages for youth concussions and other sports injuries in California. Over half of children in the United States participate in at least one sport annually. While excellent for children and teens' mental and physical health, one downside is the potential for injury.
According to Yale Medicine, over two million children are injured playing sports annually. One-third of injuries sustained during the childhood and teen years are from sports participation.
Most sports-related injuries occur during practices and not games, and half of those injuries are believed to be preventable. Some of these injuries, such as concussions, can potentially lead to long-term health problems.
Studies in California have shown that thousands of youth under 18 suffer sports-related concussions yearly. Other studies have shown the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of former NFL players.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease often found in people who have suffered repeated brain traumas, such as concussions. CTE is known to cause mood and behavioral disturbances in addition to cognitive impairment and dementia. The symptoms may not appear for many years after someone suffers trauma.
Concussions and traumatic brain injury are potentially life-threatening. They can cause swelling or bleeding days after the initial injury without treatment. Youth athletes who begin playing contact sports, such as football, basketball, soccer, or hockey, are at higher risk of head injuries and developing conditions like CTE.
Under California law, schools and youth organizations must ensure athletes do not play with a concussion. If there is any suspicion of a concussion, they must be removed from any activity until a medical professional clears them.
If the youth did sustain a concussion, they must go through a minimum seven-day process to play again. During this time, they must be supervised by a healthcare provider. California schools must educate parents about concussions and head injuries before starting practice. If schools, sports teams, or other organizations fail in their duty of care to a child, resulting in injury, families may be able to collect damages.
What is Duty of Care?
Duty of care is the idea that everyone must exercise “ordinary care” to prevent injuring other people. California law requires that people be responsible for any injury that results from their negligence or intentional actions.
Schools owe students a special duty of care. Even outside of school, California courts have repeatedly upheld that children are owed a higher duty of care. Children may not have the capacity, maturity, or knowledge to understand risks and avoid danger.
Given the risk of injury, especially concussions, coaches, trainers, administrators, and other adults involved in youth sports owe participants a duty of care to minimize risks and injuries.
The Danger of Concussions
Concussions are a particular concern because of the potential for lifelong health problems. The evidence of a link between brain trauma and playing football highlights the dangers of concussions and other head injuries, including reduced quality of life and life expectancy.
Unlike a broken bone, concussions are not always obvious. Parents should be aware of the symptoms of concussions, such as the following:
- Slurred speech;
- Physical weakness or numbness;
- Unsteady physical coordination;
- Nausea, convulsions, headaches;
- Seizures, shaking or twitching;
- Confusion or restlessness;
- One pupil is larger than the other;
- Drowsiness or inability to wake up;
Parents should also speak with coaches and other adults to ensure that, whether during a practice or game, adults are watching for potential concussions.
If a player is involved in a situation where they may have sustained a concussion, the current recommendation is that the player leaves the game or match.
Concussions are not the only potential injury with long-term ramifications. ACL tears are common among soccer players, and overuse injuries are rising.
Did Negligence Cause Your Child's Injury?
Proper precautions can minimize accidents and injuries. When a child is injured, parents or guardians should ensure that coaches, trainers, and other adults exercise the necessary duty of care to prevent the injury or if an adult's negligence or intentional actions resulted in a child's injury.
One way to determine if someone breached the duty of care is to compare their conduct with others in a similar position and professional guidelines and recommendations.
Sports have become increasingly competitive at a younger age. Increased practices and games put more pressure on players, sometimes without regard to their developing bodies. To improve your child's safety:
- Practices, games, and other activities should be appropriate for a child's age and development level.
- Coaches and other adults should be adequately trained.
Some sports have governing and certification bodies. For example, the American Swim Coaches Association offers certification and education programs for coaches.
These organizations may publish standards and other guidelines. After a child's injury, parents should find out if the team or organization followed these recommendations or policies.
When younger children specialize in sports, they risk overuse injuries. Children specializing in one sport are 70 percent more likely to have overuse injuries.
One guideline to reduce overuse injuries is that the weekly hours of training and playing a sport should be less than the child's age. A six-year-old, for example, should not play baseball for more than six hours a week.
While specialization has shortcomings, starting a new sport also increases a child's risk of injury. Coaches and other adults should ensure that beginners know the rules and have the equipment to play safely.
What Can You Do If Your Child Was Injured Playing Sports?
The laws on concussions in California confirm there is a duty of care for schools and youth organizations to follow proper anti-concussion protocols. When this duty is breached, responsible parties could be liable for the following:
- economic damages, such as medical bills, and
- non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Lawsuits for sports injuries at schools are common in California, which has no damage cap for pain and suffering and punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit. If coaches willfully fail to follow proper protocols, the school or youth organization might be liable for punitive damages on top of other losses.
For children, sports and other outdoor activities have become increasingly serious activities. Children and teen athletes often face frequent practices in addition to games, which increases the risk of injury. Concussions, other head and neck injuries, and overuse injuries can all have negative and long-lasting impacts on a child's health.
Adults, organizations, and schools involved in sports owe participants a duty of care. This ranges from ensuring children have the proper protective equipment to removing children from a game after a head injury and not encouraging a mindset of “no pain, no gain.”
Contact our Los Angeles personal injury lawyers for a free case consultation. Injury Justice Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.