Most athletic department and youth sports organization officials understand that mild traumatic brain injuries, which includes concussions, are a serious health issue for athletes. Many officials, however, are unaware of or do not fully appreciate the significant risk and liability that head injuries pose to their organizations. The litany of recently enacted state concussion laws and school district guidelines have increased the complexity of establishing and maintaining a legally defensible standard of care for head injuries. When factored with the extensive media coverage surrounding concussions, legal experts believe there will be a spike in concussion-related lawsuits against schools and youth sports organizations in the coming years1. The following is a review of the current state of safety, risk and liability for youth sports organizations pertaining to concussions and other brain injuries.
Due to the seriousness of concussions and out of an abundance of caution, since 2009 all 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed concussion laws to protect youth athletes. Fifty of the 51 laws share the following three tenets:
- Require concussion educational outreach to the athlete’s parent/guardian
- Require immediate removal from play for an athlete who sustains a concussion or is suspected to have sustained a concussion
- Require athletes who were removed from play due to a concussion or suspected concussion to be withheld from participation until a qualified healthcare provider has provided written clearance for their return to participation
Many states’ concussion laws include additional requirements to provide even more protections for youth athletes.
- 33 states require coaches and athletics officials to receive concussion training
- 21 states extend the laws to cover ALL youth sports, not just school-sanctioned youth sports
Since their original enactments, 26 states have made amendments to strengthen and extend the coverage of their laws. Concussion laws have made sports safer for youth athletes, but they have also increased the risk and liability of schools and youth sports organizations. It is imperative that schools and youth sports organizations not only understand the laws that affect them but also that they establish, maintain and can demonstrate compliance with those laws.