Emil Ford Lawyers

Concussion: Protect the brain!

When it comes to head injuries in sport, the days of bravely playing on appear to be a thing of the past, with player welfare now of primary importance. This was no more clearly displayed than during last year’s Rugby World Cup Grand Final when Australia’s veteran centre Matt Giteau suffered a head knock in his final test against arch-rival New Zealand. In a sign of the times, the furious veteran was forced to sit out the remainder of the match, watching his country suffer a gallant defeat.

If this is what professional athletes on the world’s biggest stage are to expect when faced with a possible concussion, then how much more carefully should school students be treated? Two recent US cases provide some helpful insights for schools and organisations involved with school sport.



"When it comes to head injuries in sport, the days of bravely playing on appear to be a thing of the past ..."

In the first case, a Florida district School Board agreed to pay $2 million to a former school football player who suffered severe brain trauma while at football practice, after he jumped for a high ball and knocked his head on a paint machine. Interestingly, the legal complaint concerned an action for breach of contract for the School Board’s failure to have a general liability insurance policy in place, as required by Florida state law. The School Board also determined that it had inadequate procedures in place to give effect to the school’s policy for handling student injuries. In this case, the student was examined by the coaching staff, but was allowed to drive himself home after the accident.

This case is a reminder for schools to ensure that appropriate insurance is in place and that staff are trained and equipped to deal with injuries to students. A school also owes a non-delegable duty of care to its students. In this case, this is likely to have been breached by leaving a paint machine on the field close to where students practise and by sending the student home instead of to a hospital.

In the second case, an Illinois judge rejected America’s first class action lawsuit against a school sporting organisation, the Illinois High School Association, responsible for organising more than 40 sports and activities across the State of Illinois. The judge took into consideration the limited resources of the organisation, the fact that football represents only one of its many activities and the lack of any direct contact by the organisation with school students.

These cases both illustrate that schools must be aware of the risks of concussion in school sport and have policies in place to appropriately deal with students who suffer head injuries. It is essential that schools protect their students’ brains, even as they feed them.

David Ford has written a paper on School Sport on the Law which is freely available for you to read.  Visit our Free Education Law Papers webpage to download your copy.

For advice on how to ensure your school policies are up to date, contact .

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