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New Ohio laws for student athletes with brain injuries

By James W. Slater Published: October 2, 2014

As the football season continues, parents, coaches and medical personnel should be on the lookout for head injuries, and be cognizant of the fact that some can be very serious in nature.  Last year, Ohio became the 42nd state to adopt new laws regarding brain injury and student athletes.

Coaches and their personnel are to be trained on the signs and symptoms of head injury, and are to take a student out of a game for at least 24 hours even if there is merely suspicion of head trauma.  Parents are to be given a fact sheet indicating what to look for as young athletes will often try to hide an injury so they can continue to be part of a game.

Injuries to the brain are one of the worst injuries a person can sustain and 200 of every 100,000 people suffer a brain injury of some level of severity each year, according to the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven in Tulsa, OK.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records about 2.5 million cases of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) each year.  But that is based primarily on hospital data.  Those who suffer head injuries and do not end up in the ER are not included in that figure.

According to the CDC, sports-related accidents account for about 21% of brain injuries in people 15 to 24 years old.  Nearly 85% of the sports-related injuries are concussions, according to Dr. Wayne Gordon, professor of rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.  The injured person may initially experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, diminished alertness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, loss of balance and confusion.

Concussion can cause different symptoms in the long term. When some people return to their routine, they notice such things as memory issues, difficulty multi-tasking or trouble managing emotions.

It is hard to predict at the onset which patients might experience irreparable injury, according to Dr. Gordon.  Sometimes repeated head injury can lead to partial or complete lifelong disability.

Brain injuries can be difficult to prove in a court of law. The effects may not be apparent for months, or may be very subtle such as a small change in personality, development of depression, or anxiety. The change may not manifest until scar tissue starts to form on the damaged section of the brain. Since most people have not undergone neuropsychological testing previous to their injury, there is nothing to compare to the tests taken after the incident.

Generally, medical expert witnesses are employed by attorneys to prove the injured party had a change in brain function. However, a less traumatic brain injury may have to be proved from school records, work performance history and testimony from family and friends regarding the person’s behavior before and after the injury.

This article was written by Attorney James W. Slater of the Akron, Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP.

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