As sports concussion awareness continues to gain national headlines, so too will concussion related litigation.
A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association made headlines recently for its findings relating to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former NFL players. The research examined the brains of 111 deceased former NFL players and found evidence of CTE in 110. Somewhat lost in the headlines was that researchers also examined brains of former football players at all levels, not just those who participated in the NFL. According to the study, evidence of CTE was found in three of the 14 brains of players who only played in high school and in 48 of 53 college players whose brains were studied. In total, of those examined, CTE was diagnosed in over 87% of former football players at all levels.
While this new research is certainly bound to affect on-going concussion litigation against the NFL and NCAA, expect it to also accelerate the trend of lawsuits against youth sport organizations and high schools relating to concussions and safety protocol.
Between 2009 and 2015, all 50 states and the District of Columbia passed laws to address the issue of concussions in youth sports, mostly modeled on Washington State’s groundbreaking Lystedt Law. This new CTE research may lead to the enactment of stricter concussion protocols. However, more stringent standards could actually contribute to an increase in concussion related litigation. Recently, the Supreme Court of Washington (the first state to enact concussion safety laws) ruled that the family of a deceased high school football player could proceed with claims against the high school and coach for violations of the legislation based on an implied cause of action theory.
While participation in tackle football may be down in recent years, according to a 2016 survey published by the National Federation of State High School Associations, football remains the number one high school participation sport in the United States. This fact, coupled with the recent CTE revelations is likely to lead to an uptick in the amount of concussion related litigation.
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 “Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol 318, No. 4, Pgs. 360-370 (2017).
 Swank v Valley Christian School, — P.3d —- (2017); 2017 WL 2876139 (Wash. July 6, 2017).