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How serious is your child’s head injury?

Injured on the fieldAccording to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, sports are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of concussions for people between 15 and 24 years old, and the number of concussions is on the rise. Parents, schools,  day care centers, and sports coaches better understanding the serious long term risks that come with brain injuries and being more likely to seek medical attention after head injuries. To avoid injuries, adults can not just pa attention to what happens on a sports field, but also keep children from getting hurt in backyards, on playgrounds, in parks and at school.

Recognizing the dangers and the signs of serious brain injuries is important. While head injuries are common and usually minor, some children– including those that appear to be well immediately after the head trauma actually have more severe injuries. These children are at risk for their condition to deteriorate or also suffer significant chronic complications that stem from that injury. In fact, despite better initial recognition of brain injuries, many adults underestimate how much recovery time is necessary after a suspected concussion, or the children themselves say they feel fine and ask to return to normal activities.

What exactly is a concussion?

Head X RayConcussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow or hit to the head that jostles the brain and temporarily disrupts its proper functioning. Symptoms can last for minutes, days or weeks, and while most children recover, repeated head injuries or concussions can cause permanent brain damage or even death.

Concussions are graded on a scale of I-III based on the severity of the symptoms.

The mildest type are grade I concussions, which is when the head injury leads to confusion of 15 minutes or less. Next are grade II concussions, where the confusion lasts longer than 15 minutes. Grade III concussions occur whenever there is loss of consciousness or passing out and is the most severe and dangerous type.

Increased awareness means increased responsibility

As medical technology and science advance and head injuries are better understood, parents across the nation are pursuing lawsuits against school districts and coaches. The cases involve multiple concussions, returning to play and/or practice too soon, negligent supervision, lack of an emergency medical response plan, and inadequate immediate medical response.

For example, in October 2015, a case against the Hillsborough County Florida School Board settled for $2 million after a 16 year old football player suffered a head injury. The student had not been wearing  helmet, was briefly looked at by the coach and athletic trainer, then left alone in the locker room for half an hour before being allowed to drive himself home. When he arrived at home, his parents took him to an emergency room where he was diagnosed with a skull fracture and a severe concussion.

While that suit was successful, head injury suits face a number of challenges.

Duty to take Reasonable Care

Immediately with the settlement, the Florida High School Athletic Association became the first governing body in the country to require high school athletes in all sports complete a course on concussions before being allowed to compete for their schools. This means that most schools can show they exercised reasonable care to prevent under reporting head injuries.

Government Immunity

Government employees are traditionally immune from liability in injury lawsuits, and this includes public school employees. Today some states limit how much a plaintiff can recover in a lawsuit, such as Florida, where the recovery limit is $300,000.

Parental Waivers

Before a minor participates in a sport or activity, parents are are usually required to sign a waiver on their child’s behalf. These waivers agree to release organizations from liability for any injuries suffered while participating in an activity, including death. Organizations usually try to use waivers as a defense, however most courts will not enforce parental waivers. In fact, in 2008 the Florida Supreme Court declared that commercial parental waivers are unenforceable.