Wrongful Death Settement Illustrates Danger of "Double Impact" Syndrome

Posted on Feb 07, 2014

There has been a lot of news coverage regarding athletes and the long-term risks associated with concussions, including some high-profile litigation. NFL players recently reached a tentative settlement with the league over allegations that NFL officials failed to warn of, and protect players from the risks associated with multiple how many impacts, and the long-term health consequences. A federal judge has rejected the proposed settlement, and the litigation continues. Some players have filed direct claims against team organizations, making similar allegations.

Shortly after reports of the NFL litigation, collegiate football players went to court, making similar allegations, and seeking compensation for the long-term detrimental effects of multiple concussions and head injuries that resulted from multiple blows to the head.

A former Portland Timber soccer player recently filed suit against the franchise, claiming that he was returned to the pitch in violation of team policies regarding monitoring and treatment of concussions. 

That Portland Timber case, and a recent settlement involving a high school athlete illustrate the dangers associated with “second impact syndrome.”  Second impact syndrome is a condition in which the brain swells rapidly and catastrophically after a person suffers a second impact to the head before a prior concussion has fully healed. This brain injury syndrome occurs most frequently in younger athletes, and in many cases, proves fatal.

The high school athlete case is a sad story. A 16-year-old high school junior suffered a concussion while at practice. Despite the fact that the young athlete was still experiencing symptoms from the head injury, he was permitted to return to a game and play within weeks after the first injury. After making a tackle, the high school athlete collapsed, and went into a seizure. He never regained consciousness, and after being removed from life support, died two days later.

The key improving this claim was establishing that the high school athletic staff member violated the schools very own guidelines by failing to put the young man through an evaluation protocol to make sure he was fit and healthy for further competition. In addition, one test provided prior to the game was significantly abnormal, and should have alerted school personnel that sending a brain injured youth at onto the field created an unreasonable risk.

This case settled during jury selection.

The recent spate of concussion related litigation is certainly a lightning rod issue, with some contending that “they are going to take football with from us.”  I do not know who “they” are, but regardless who is right and who is wrong, athletic departments are taking a close look at how to better protect child athletes.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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