Many parents would prefer their child to play a sport like soccer due to the perception, accurate or not, that it is safer. While traumatic brain injuries are typically considered to be more common in sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse a TBI can occur during any activity – athletic or otherwise. When playing a contact sport like soccer serious injuries including TBIs, broken bones, or a torn ACL or MCL can also occur. Therefore it is essential that athletes, coaches and officials take all reasonable safety measures and always err on the side of caution when a serious injury is suspected. Erring on the side of caution when it comes to brain injuries in child athletes isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the law in Pennsylvania.
How did this Childhood Brain Injury Occur?
Downingtown located in Chester County, Pennsylvania is a youth soccer hotspot where coaches are often extremely demanding of their players and those who try out for the varsity, club and travel teams. Roster spots in the high school soccer program are especially coveted by parents and athletes as the girls team has been league champions for 5 of the last 10 years and won the district championship in 2009. The girl, now 16-years-old, brought the suit due to an incident that occurred at a youth soccer scrimmage when she was 14.
According to the account given by the girl and her family, she was an incoming freshman who was attempting to make the Downingtown High School East team. The girl, who is identified in the lawsuit as M.U., went up for a header but instead of striking the ball with her head she collided with another player. M.U. reportedly fell to the ground in tears and was taken out of the game. But she was then allegedly placed back into the game by her coach, Craig Reed. After returning to the game M.U. allegedly struck the ball with her head several times and continued to collide with other players.
On the bus ride home, M.U. claims she began to experience a headache. By the next day she claims that she suffered from vision problems and dizziness. These problems apparently led her to miss 80 days of school her freshman year. M.U. also claims that these problems and impairments have now narrowed her choice of colleges and may limit “the kind of future she will be able to enjoy”.
The federal lawsuit names the school district, the coach, and Total Soccer as defendants. Reed did not return calls for comment. The school district stated that they would not discuss ongoing litigation. Total Soccer, Reed’s former employer, spoke positively about Reed and his coaching performance.
What Does Pennsylvania’s Safety in Youth Sports Act Require?
Passed in 2012, Pennsylvania’s Safety in Youth Sports Act was intended to improve the treatment received by children suspected of sustaining a TBI. The law assigns certain duties to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Department of Education and sets forth penalties for noncompliance. The law applies to athletic activities including:
- Inter-school sporting events or matches
- Club or intramural sports
- Non-competitive cheerleading
- Practices and scrimmages
The Act encourages or requires a number of actions intended to reduce the likelihood and severity of TBIs in youth sports. To begin with, the statute requires government entities to develop and distribute educational materials regarding traumatic brain injury — including the risks of continuing play following a suspected TBI. Prior to being permitted to participate, a student athlete and his or her parents must acknowledge that they have reviewed this material. The law suggests, though it does not require, that an information meeting occur prior to the season as well.
Furthermore, the law requires a coach to remove a player from a game after a referee, school official, medical professional, or the player’s coach notes that the student is displaying signs or symptoms of a concussion or TBI. The student may not return to play until he or she is examined by an appropriate medical professional and cleared to return to play.
Coaches must adhere to these standards which includes a yearly concussion management training course. If coaches fail to remove a player suspected of sustaining a brain injury or place a player back into a game before the player receives clearance, penalties can apply. For a first offense, the coach is to be suspended for the remainder of the season. A second violation carries a ban for the current school year and the following one. Finally a third offense carries a lifetime ban from coaching.
Put our Youth and School Sports Injury Experience to Work for You
If your child has suffered a traumatic brain injury or another serious injury while playing youth sports, you may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. Contact the experienced school injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm by calling (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.