Despite Improvement in Helmet Technology and Requirements, High School Athletic Head Injury Rate Continues to Increase
Some parents know August as back-to-school season, while others know it as the start of concussion season. Football practices at schools around Massachusetts tend to start a few weeks before classes – and so, unfortunately, do the resulting head injuries.
Prevalence of Head Injuries in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, high school student athletes suffered a staggering 4,400 head injuries while playing school sports in the 2012-2013 school year. The student-athletes at Boston College High School suffered 63 of these head injuries. The data from the over 300 schools that were surveyed showed that the majority of concussions and other head injuries came from football, followed closely by hockey. Cheerleading accidents also accounted for many of the head injuries. The 4,400 reported head injuries totaled nearly 1,000 higher than the previous year, but this discrepancy could have been due to more schools reporting or keeping better records. Some of the research participants have suggested that the increases in the head injuries over the last couple of years demonstrate better record keeping and awareness and not necessarily more injuries. Although players are typically most competitive during games, at 58% the rate of head injuries at practice for high school players is slightly higher, meaning that players, coaches, and parents have to be constantly concerned about the risk of injury. High school football players are also 11% more likely than college players to suffer concussions.
Legal Requirements for Massachusetts’ Schools
All schools in Massachusetts are required to address the severity and prevalence of sports-related head injuries by annually instructing their staff and students as well as the students’ parents on identifying and dealing with head injuries. Additionally, students who have experienced head injuries cannot return to the field, rink or court until they have received clearance from a doctor. Despite the laws regarding sports injury awareness and monitoring by schools, it is difficult to regulate schools’ compliance or to see if they are intentionally under-reporting injuries.
Head Injury Lawsuits
High school athletic head injury lawsuits largely remain uncharted territory. Student athletes and their parents typically sign away many of their rights when they agree to play, and helmets have only become more advanced in recent decades. However, former high school athletes in Illinois and Mississippi are attempting to level lawsuits at their alma maters for the way their sports-related concussions were handled while they were students. In addition to alleging that the former student’s high school did not properly follow head injury regulation and education procedures, the Illinois lawsuit also calls for an increase in rules and regulations surrounding high school sports injuries including increased availability of medical staff during practice and increased monitoring of student athletes’ brains – even before an accident occurs.
High school sports-related head injury lawsuits are certainly not petty, and we may see an increase in them over the next couple of years – particularly by plaintiffs who can demonstrate that their schools have not been following the head injury reporting or education regulations or that the head injuries could have been prevented.