Liability of Coaches for Concussions

Liability of Coaches for Concussions

Ask a medical professional, and they will explain that any hit to the head is serious. There is no such thing as a minor brain injury. Why? The brain is the center of the nervous system. If it is damaged, then our bodies and minds may be incapable of functioning as they did before. Permanent harm can easily occur.

The tragedy of many young concussion victims is the lack of awareness that they have suffered a concussion and injury to their brain. Until it’s too late. They may ignore the pain; symptoms may arise hours later; a series of minor head injuries may culminate in severe injury.

Even more sinister is the reality that their coaches may not be competent to protect these players from this kind of harm. Concussions can happen on the field or at practice. Who’s in charge? What level of coaching skill do they have? What level of medical training?

Parents may trust the coaching staff, or the T-Ball coach, but that trust may be misplaced.

Concussions and Children Playing School Sports

Children are at great risk of serious and permanent brain injury from playing football, soccer, basketball, etc., as a school activity. Girls and boys. Parents need to know these risks as well as the risk of relying upon coaches to keep their student athlete safe from danger.

From the Indiana Regional Medical Center:

All concussions are serious injuries that can alter the way the brain functions. Most do not involve a loss of consciousness but can cause short-term neurological changes. The effects of concussions vary greatly among individuals, and many mild concussions are undiagnosed and unreported.

Concussions can affect the athlete’s schooling, work and social life, and can cause long-term issues which affect memory, mood, balance and sleep; and in the most severe cases, result in death.

A concussion can occur even when the athlete is using protective headgear. Head injuries are never to be taken lightly, especially with our children, as their developing brains do not recover as quickly from concussions as those in adults.

Claims Against Coaches for Head Injuries

Under personal injury law, claims can be filed against those who fail in their duty to keep these kids safe from harm while in their charge. Coaches can face negligence claims for concussion injuries to students, just as the NFL faces liability for the harm done to their professional players.

However, in Indiana a new law has been passed to try and protect students from naive or uneducated coaching staff.

It is Indiana Code 20‐34‐7, which provides the following:

(b) Prior to coaching football to individuals who are less than twenty (20) years of age and are in grades 1 through 12, each head football coach and assistant football coach shall complete a certified coaching education course that:

(1) is sport specific;
(2) contains player safety content, including content on:
(A) concussion awareness;
(B) equipment fitting;
(C) heat emergency preparedness;  and
(D) proper technique;
(3) requires a coach to complete a test demonstrating comprehension of the content of the course;  and
(4) awards a certificate of completion to a coach who successfully completes the course. 

This Indiana statute protects players under the age of 20 years, which covers 1st graders, tweens, and high school athletes. The law is designed to keep these kids from being supervised by a coach that is not aware of the subtle dangers and nuances of a traumatic brain injury and concussion.

Today, it is Indiana law that coaches must be certified in concussion awareness. The coach must be re-certified every two years.

Indiana Statute Limiting Liability of Coaches for Student Concussions

However, this law does more than force coaches to get an online certification in concussion awareness.

Parents rely upon coaches to keep their kids safe while participating in school sports. It is the coach and the coaching staff that is there on the field, or at practice, when the head injury happens. So, what if they fail in this duty to keep the child safe?

Under the Indiana student concussion law:

(f) A coach who complies with this section and provides coaching services in good faith is not personally liable for damages in a civil action as a result of a concussion or head injury incurred by an athlete participating in an athletic activity in which the coach provided coaching services, except for an act or omission by the coach that constitutes gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

Which means the ability of the injured child to get justice is harder now.

The legal liability of the coach has been defined by Indiana state statute.

By getting the online certification, the coach’s liability for the student’s concussion injury is limited if (1) he or she is providing coaching services “in good faith” and (2) has not acted or failed to act in a manner that is “gross negligence, or willful or wanton misconduct.”

Whether or not the coach’s actions (or inactions) fit within the confines of this limited liability statute will depend upon the facts of the particular injury and accident, as well as how the courts define “good faith,” “gross negligence,” and “willful or wanton misconduct.”   Each concussion victim’s case will be unique.

If your child plays sports, you need to be aware of the risks of concussion and knowledgeable about what avenues for justice exist for them in the event they suffer a serious and permanent head injury while at play. Let’s be careful out there!

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