Traumatic Brain Injury Suit Targets NCAA

An article published this week in the New York Times offers details of a “class-action suit that claims the NCAA has been negligent regarding awareness and treatment of brain injuries to athletes.”
According to the newspaper there are currently four plaintiffs involved in the suit – three football players and, unexpectedly, a soccer player. As the newspaper notes, the suit is particularly interesting because it targets the NCAA, the body that oversees most college athletics here in the United States, rather than the individual schools for which the plaintiffs played.

The focus of the article is a former University of Central Arkansas football player, described in the piece as once having been a three-sport athlete, straight-A student and talented trumpet player. Following a severe hit as he was returning a punt last year he has been unable to play. Heeding doctors’ advice he has now permanently abandoned contact sports, the newspaper reports.

As the Times observes, one of the key problems facing those who believe they have suffered traumatic brain injuries here in Oregon or elsewhere while playing a college sport is the unique status of college athletes. They are not, legally speaking, children, like players in High School or Middle School games. But they are not employees either (at least not in a formal sense) like pro players in the NFL. That is one reason why the Washington State brain injury lawyer in charge of the case says he is focused on arranging “insurance that would provide for training and evaluation for players and follow-up care for athletes,” as part of any resolution of the lawsuit. The NCAA, rather than individual schools, is the focus of the suit because the plaintiffs want to change the way severe brain trauma is handled across the world of college sports, not merely in any particular sport or institution.

From an Oregon traumatic brain injury lawyer’s perspective the approach these plaintiffs are taking is particularly interesting. If we start from the premise that the real purpose of going to court is to see justice done, we must also acknowledge that justice that only looks backwards is, philosophically speaking, incomplete. Victims and their families should know that the people responsible for an injury have moved to ensure that the injury will not be repeated. Any suit that seeks to improve the way the world of college sports handles all athletes is a welcome addition to our national discussion of the problem of sports-related head and brain injuries.

New York Times: College Athletes Move Concussions into the Courtroom