The link between football and concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI) is becoming better known, with media increasing its coverage of the issue of late. The repeated concussions that many players endure on the field can add up to a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can cause memory loss, depression, difficulty controlling impulses and even dementia. In some cases, the condition may have even contributed to former players committing suicide.
But can a football player sue for brain injuries sustained in a game they willingly and often enthusiastically chose to play?
The answer is yes. The National Football League (NFL) has been sued. In fact, in April of this year, a class action lawsuit was settled in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The suit claimed that the NFL did not warn players of the risks or brain injury associated with the game. Under the terms of the settlement, retired players, family members of deceased players and representatives of players who have died or become incapacitated would be eligible to receive medical exams and monetary awards for certain diagnoses. The settlement would also provide for educational programs on football safety.
Lawsuits over football-related TBIs have also been filed at the high school and college level, asserting that education about and response to concussions and other head injuries on the field has been lacking, putting players at risk for CTE.
Research is ongoing about the exact cause of CTE, as not all football players end up with the condition. It is not known, for example, if CTE results from a single hard hit to the head, from a series of small concussions from which the brain never had a chance to recover or from another cause. Unfortunately the new focus on risk education may come too late for some players who have already suffered damage. For those players, their next best play may be to find a good lawyer.