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Did coaches know or should they have known about head injury?

In August 2011, the life of a young man, with what was shaping up to be a very bright future, was cut short. He was not only an honor student at Frostburg State University, but he gave his all as an athlete for the football team. It was during training for this latter role that he suffered the injuries that would end his life.

After the family was forced to say goodbye to the 22-year-old, they filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his behalf. As with many of these sports injury cases filed in Pennsylvania or nationwide, there is no disagreement over whether the head injury occurred. Instead, the parties disagree on the circumstances surrounding the injury and whether or not the defendants breached the duty of care they owed to the young man.

The complaint states that the injury occurred during practice, when the team was instructed to complete impact drills described as “gladiatorial” in which the player’s head was repeatedly exposed to forceful blows. During these drills, the young man’s head began to bleed.

Instead of conducting concussion testing, the team’s trainers bandaged up his head and continued to allow him to practice throughout the week. Days later, the young man knew that something “didn’t feel right.” He shared his concerns with an assistant coach before he became unconscious, falling into a coma that would last for six days before he succumbed to the injuries.

The family claims that the coaches, the trainers, the NCAA and the maker of the helmet were all negligent in contributing to the death of the young man.

It is no surprise that the defendants disagree. It is common for defendants to move to dismiss the claims early in the case. In this case, the parties argue that the young man knew the risks involved in playing the violent sport. Further, they claim that the coaches didn’t affirmatively know that he was bleeding, nor that he had suffered a concussion. As for the helmet he was wearing, it had a clear warning that it wouldn’t protect against every possible injury.

So who is right? In this case, did the defendants have to know or should they have known? Did they fail to discover the injury when they failed to conduct testing for a possible concussion? Does an express warning eliminate responsibility? The judge is scheduled to hear the arguments in court on Friday, Feb. 21. At this stage, the judge will determine the sufficiency of the claims assuming that all of the facts alleged are true.

Source: Lancaster Online, “Judge to hear arguments in Md. football death suit,” Feb. 20, 2014

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