Some statistics suggest that over 300,000 Americans each year sustain a concussion. Given the number of student athletes, and the number of practices, scrimmages and games in which they participate, it is certainly not surprising that students are vulnerable to concussion injuries and also make up a good portion of the concussion injuries that are reported each year. A concussion is indeed a brain injury and much has been written lately about the short term and long term effects of concussions. Many physicians now believe that concussions suffered by younger student athletes can be harmful to their natural development in a variety of ways, many of which have not been researched and remain unclear.
However, some facts are perfectly clear. First, a student athlete would rather play than sit and would rather play through an injury than sit out an important game. Coaches would rather play their best athletes and the schools and their student bodies all hope for the excitement of a winning season. The Safety in Youth Sports Act which was recently passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and is continuing to wind its way through Harrisburg, tries to balance these concerns. It remains to be seen whether this Act will be enacted into law.
Essentially, the Safety in Youth Sports Act calls upon the Department of Health and the Department of Education to develop and post on their websites, information, materials and guidelines to inform and educate students, parents and coaches about the nature and risks of concussions and head injuries. Under the Act, any student who wants to participate in an athletic activity and that student’s parent or guardian must sign a form at the beginning of each school year indicating that they have received and reviewed concussion and head injury information. Furthermore, every 3 years, coaches must complete a concussion management certification training course. Obviously, the purpose of this Act is to generate awareness and educate student athletes, parents and coaches about safely managing concussion and head injuries.
The Act also provides that when a student athlete exhibits signs or symptoms of a concussion or head injury, as determined by a health care practitioner, coach, game official or any other official from the school, that athlete must be removed from participating in the athletic event. Furthermore, that student athlete cannot again participate in athletic activity until he or she is evaluated and cleared by a healthcare practitioner. The Act contains penalties for coaches who violate its provisions, for example a coach can be suspended for the remainder of the season, he can be suspended for a number of seasons or he can be permanently suspended from coaching any athletic activity. However, those penalties do not take effect for several years. Again, the purpose of the Act is more focused on protecting student athletes by raising the awareness of, and education about concussions and head injuries.
Cases can be and indeed are filed on behalf of student athletes, amateur athletes and professional athletes who sustain injuries because the athletic events, field day competitions or other activities are managed improperly or are unsafely and improperly stated. Those participating in a wide variety of activities are sometimes injured because of a complete lack of adequate supervision. Others are injured because of inadequate or improper equipment or the failure to provide adequate safety equipment. Hopefully, this Act will help to educate parents and coaches and, make the athletes themselves more aware of the dangers of trying to play through or cover up these injuries. Responsible parents and coaches will say that the law is unnecessary but perhaps, if the law passes, it will prevent some programs from cutting corners.
Keep your head up and be careful out there.
John A. Orlando, Esquire is a trial attorney who can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (610) 897-2576 or (215) 864-7176.