High school student suffers TBI at practice, who is liable?

When is a coach liable for a player's TBI?

Medical experts agree that the dangers that come with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are serious. Professionals with Mayo Clinic explain that these injuries can lead to nerve damage and cognitive problems as well as behavioral and emotional changes. The increased risk of long-term impacts from degenerative brain disease like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Dementia is also established.

Those who play high impact sports, like football, are at increased risk for these types of injuries. Safety measures are present to reduce the risk, but not every coach or team follows these recommendations. A recent case calls to question when a coach's failure results in liability for a player's injury.

Is the coach liable for player's TBI?

The victim is a high school student out of Pennsylvania. He suffered two hard hits during football practice in 2011. After the first hit, teammates stated that the victim was exhibiting "concussion-like symptoms." The coach returned the young man to practice, where he suffered the second, violent collision. The student player left the field after the second hit.

The parents argue that since the coach required their son to return to practice after the first violent hit, he violated the student's "constitutional right to bodily integrity under a state-created danger theory of liability."

It is important to note that this case, Mann v. Palmerton Area School District; Christopher Walkowiak, specifically addresses state law. Although the intricacies of the court's finding hinge on this distinction, broad lessons are present for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation. The main lesson from this case: a successful case hinges on knowledge of state law.

The law that is used to support this case was not clearly established at the time of the injury. As such, the court ruled that the coach was not liable. However, had the law been present the claim would likely have survived. If evidence was present to establish the coach required the student to return even though he was clearly injured, the coach may have been held liable for the resulting TBI.

How does legal liability work in athletic events?

Athletic events, like football, pose a number of potential legal issues. One hurdle involves where the event occurs. Is it a school event? Does the question of governmental immunity apply? This hurdle may not bar the claim, but there are certain criteria that must be met for the claim to survive.

Another issue involves the conduct of the person that caused the injury. Was the injury a result of acceptable practices in the game, or was the other player's action beyond what would normally happen within the game? A common example involves a player getting physically violent and striking another player in a manner that would be more common in a fight, not on the football field.

These are just a few of the legal issues that an attorney would explore to determine liability when a victim suffers a brain injury. Due to the many areas that are explored in these cases, it is wise to seek legal counsel. An experienced TBI attorney can review the details of the injury and build a case specifically to your situation, better ensuring the success of your claim.

  • Foundation
  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum
  • Illinois State Bar Association
  • American Association For Justice