It has been quite evident that in many professional and amateur sports, athletes face a heightened risk of head impacts and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). A TBI is caused by a blow or other head trauma that changes how a brain normally functions. Without properly addressing TBIs, over time athletes can develop Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is caused by repeated head impacts over a number of years, or chronic TBIs. It is an incurable and fatal degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed after death, during an autopsy.
Recently, football has been front and center in the debate regarding concussions in both youth and professional sports. In fact, the NFL has responded to chronic traumatic encephalopathy concerns by paying out more than $765 million to settle lawsuits brought by retired players, as well as scrambling to improve training and equipment, and even fundamentally changing rules to try to eliminate the most violent collisions.
Although it is discussed far less, the National Hockey League (NHL) is also facing criticism and lawsuits related to the League’s complicated relationship with concussions and CTE. In 2013, former hockey players brought a lawsuit against the NHL claiming the League should have done more to educate them about concussion-related risks inherent in the sport. While the NFL has taken great effort to reduce the risk of concussions and CTE in players, the NHL is still fighting its lawsuit five years later.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the suit “doesn’t have merit” and he denies a link between blows to the head and CTE. A series of trials is currently scheduled for 2019, but reportedly the parties are attempting to move closer to settlement.
While still not admitting a link between head injuries and CTE, the NHL has gotten more serious about brain injury along with the rest of the sporting world, banning checks to the head from a lateral or blind-side position and following the NFL in introducing designated “concussion spotters” – trained officials whose duty it is to watch games and identify players who may have suffered a head injury. The NHL has also updated its concussion protocol to include “central spotters” watching every game from NHL offices.
Although the NHL has a reticence to admit a link between CTE and blows to the head, it cannot be disputed that without proper rules and training, games can be dangerous for players. To date, there is a growing list of NHL players who have already had a concussion this new season. But it’s hard to track just how many concussions NHL players experience, because teams are not required by the league to publicly release injury news. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain just how well the NHL’s updated policies and procedures are working.
A number of our firm’s clients have suffered TBIs. It has been because of their experiences in litigation that our lawyers understand the severity of the injuries and the importance of access to services. In fact, some of our lawyers provide leadership and guidance on the Alabama Head Injury Foundation’s state and local boards. If you have a case involving a traumatic brain injury, contact Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com, or Rachel Boyd, a lawyer in our firm’s Consumer Fraud & Commercial Litigation Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rachel.Boyd@beasleyallen.com.
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This story appears in the December 2018 edition of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like it or to subscribe to the Report, visit our Publications page.