Brain Injuries in the NCAA
Over the past few years, several stories have made news headlines involving concussions in young athletes that turned into catastrophic brain injuries. In many cases, a player was moved off the field when they shouldn’t have been. Some players were cleared to return to play before a doctor had seen them. Over 200 lawsuits have been filed against The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) by brain-injured players or their families claiming that the NCAA was aware of the risk of concussions and knowingly exposed student football athletes to that risk.
- Every year, 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions result from sports injuries in the United States.
- A 2019 study of 658 college football players revealed that players sustained an average of 415 recorded head impacts per season.
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when a sudden trauma, often a blow to the head, causes the brain to rock within the skull. The severity of TBI can range from a concussion to a coma.
Three Levels of Brain Trauma:
- Mild (Concussion): A person with a concussion might remain conscious or may experience loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Typical symptoms include confusion, memory and attention difficulties, headache, and behavioral issues.
- Moderate: A person with moderate TBI is often lethargic with their eyes open to stimulation. They may lose consciousness for 20 minutes or up to six hours. They might experience some brain swelling or bleeding, causing sleepiness, but they can still be awakened.
- Severe (Coma): A person with severe TBI is typically in a coma state for more than six hours.
Symptoms of a TBI
- confusion or disorientation
- lightheadedness or blackouts
- blurred vision or tired eyes
- slurred/unclear speech
- bad taste or vomiting
- delayed or slowed spoken or physical responses
- change in sleep patterns, drowsiness
- behavioral or mood changes
- trouble with memory, concentration, attention
In 2017, Deb Hardon-Ploetz sued the NCAA, alleging negligence and the wrongful death of her husband. Greg Ploetz was a linebacker for the University of Texas from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. In 2009, he was diagnosed with dementia. He died at age 66 in 2015. During his autopsy, doctors discovered he had advanced-stage Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Mrs. Hardin-Ploetz claims that the NCAA knew about the dangers of a concussion in football and did not warn her husband.
The NCAA claimed it had no legal obligation “that would serve as the basis of negligence or wrongful death case.
The concussion crisis plaguing the NCAA and other well-known athletic
organizations has highlighted the need for action and guidelines to ensure player safety not only during player’s careers, but long after as well.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association had sponsored studies on the effects of concussions and the time it takes to fully recover, but hadn’t enforced a standard concussion guideline and best practices. Instead, these policies were left up to the individual schools.
GPW attorney Jason E. Luckasevic has filed a sting of lawsuits against the NCAA alleging that the Association concealed knowledge of the long-term neurological effects caused by brain injuries received during football hits.
What is required to Prove Negligence?
- Duty – The defendant had a duty to act on behalf of the plaintiff under the circumstances.
- Breach – The defendant breached their duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way;
- Cause – It was the defendant’s action or inaction that caused the plaintiff’s injury; and
- Damages – The plaintiff was injured because of the defendant’s actions.
The burden of proof is high. However, if you or your loved one sustains a concussion while playing a sport, you should see a medical doctor and consult Goldberg Persky and White P.C. today!
Niessen Joan, “Massive Ripple Effect for College Football” Sports Illustrated (2019). [Link]
Thompson Dennis, “Concussions More Likely in Practice Thank Play For College Football Players” US News & World Report (2021). [Link]
Bauer-Wolf Jeremy, “A Verdict That could Have Changed the Tide” Inside Higher Ed. (2018) [Link]
Schwartz, Jason “ The Lawyer Who Took on the NFL Over Concussions Has a new Strategy That Could Devastate the NCAA” Sports Illustrated [Link]