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Sports-Related Concussions: What You Need to Know

Written by Berkowitz


A concussion occurs when an impact causes the brain to smash against the skull, resulting in brain injury. Since sports-related concussions occur with alarming frequency, laws have been put into place to try to prevent these sorts of accidents. If an accident does occur, Connecticut personal injury law entitles the victim to financial compensation.

The most common victims of sports-related concussions are teenagers and professional athletes. Most of these accidents occur during actual games, even though the average athlete spends more time in practice than in games. The two main reasons athletes suffer serious concussion injuries are (i) the symptoms are not recognized, resulting in failure to seek medical treatment, and (ii) athletes are returned to the field too soon after suffering a head injury.

Symptoms of a Concussion

It is important that you recognize the symptoms of a concussion for legal as well as medical reasons. If you delay seeking medical attention and you subsequently file a claim for compensation, your delay could open the door for the insurance company to claim that your head injury didn’t occur until after the sporting activity that you claim was the cause of your injury.

A concussion is considered a “mild” Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The following are some of the most common warning signs of TBI:

  • A constant or recurring headache
  • Balance and muscle coordination problems
  • Impaired ability to see, hear, or taste
  • Dizzy spells
  • Increased  sensitivity to light or sound
  • Short attention span, easily distracted; difficulty concentrating; difficulty following instructions
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Difficulty expressing yourself verbally, stuttering or stammering
  • Unconsciousness

The foregoing is an incomplete list of symptoms. In fact, the symptoms of a concussion can sometimes be milder and more varied than the symptoms listed above. It is best to seek medical attention any time you even suspect a concussion.


Concussions are common occurrences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly three million people are treated for TBI every year from all causes (not limited to sports injuries). Although these numbers have increased rapidly in recent years, the death rate has declined over the same period, indicating that these statistics reflect more people seeking medical treatment rather than an actual rise in the number of concussions.

A more disturbing study released by the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program (UPMC) estimates that between 1.7 million and 3 million sports-related concussions occur every year. These high figures are a result of the UPMC’s estimate than only about half of all concussion victims receive any medical treatment at all – either due to deliberate failure to seek treatment or failure to recognize the symptoms of a concussion.

The following is a list of some of the most disturbing sport-related concussion statistics according to the Brain Injury Research Institute:

  • 20 percent of high school athletes suffer a sports-related concussion during any given season.
  • High school football accounts for 47% of all reported sports concussions.
  • Football-related concussions occur about once in every 5.5 games.
  • One in three high school athletes have suffered more than one concussion in a single year.
  • More than one-third of all college football players have experienced one concussion, and one in five have suffered multiple concussions.
  • Research from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University found that an astonishing 95 percent of deceased former NFL players, in their sample, tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head injuries. It is widely believed that multiple head impacts, which fall short of a concussion, are even more dangerous than a single concussion.
  • 90% of concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness – a fact that could mislead people into thinking that the victim does not need medical treatment.
  • An estimated 5.3 million Americans suffer from long-term TBI disability (not necessarily sports-related).

The most dangerous team sports, in rank order, are as follows:

  1. Football
  2. Boys’ ice hockey
  3. Girls’ soccer
  4. Boys’ lacrosse
  5. Girls’ lacrosse
  6. Boys’ soccer
  7. Boys’ wrestling
  8. Girls’ basketball
  9. Girls’ softball
  10. Boys’ basketball
  11. Girls’ field hockey
  12. Cheerleading
  13. Girls’ volleyball
  14. Boys’ baseball
  15. Girls’ gymnastics

Obviously, boxing would top the list if individual sports were included, since the object of the game is to inflict a concussion on your opponent (a “knockout”). It is also worth noting that girls tend to suffer a higher rate of concussions than boys do.

Preventive Measures

There a number of things you can do, as a parent or a coach, to reduce the risk of concussions among sports participants:

  • Insist that the players follow the rules of the game and practice good sportsmanship, and impose strict penalties on cheating.
  • Insist that players wear properly fitted helmets and take any other required or recommended safety precautions.
  • Seek immediate medical attention for any suspected concussions that occur.
  • Suspend all practice and playing time for a concussion victim, and return him or her to play only after completing certain preparatory activities.

Second Impact Syndrome

The failure of half of all concussion victims to seek treatment is disturbing, especially for people involved in contact sports. A phenomenon known as second impact syndrome often occurs when someone experiences a second concussion before fully recovering from the first concussion.

Second impact syndrome results in a catastrophic swelling of the brain that results in death or lifelong disability. As you might imagine, the consequences of sending a player back onto the field soon after a concussion can result in severe civil and even criminal penalties.

Preparing a Concussion Victim for Return to the Field

The CDC recommends the completion of a five-step progression to return a concussion victim to the playing field:

  1. Light aerobic activity only
  2. Moderate, non-contact physical activity
  3. Heavy, non-contact physical activity
  4. Practice and full contact activity
  5. Return to formal competition

The timing of these five steps will vary from individual to individual, but it is best to be cautious. Always follow medical advice, and carefully monitor the player’s physical and cognitive performance through each stage of recovery.

Connecticut Concussion Law for Youth Sports

In response to a multitude of serious sports-related head injuries among teenagers who should have been more closely supervised by coaches and other adults, Connecticut began enacting concussion laws designed to reduce the incidence of concussions among athletes and to improve medical outcomes when such injuries do occur.

Under Connecticut’s concussion laws:

  • The school must provide each athlete’s parents an informed consent form that includes information about concussions, and the parents must grant consent before the athlete is allowed to play or practice. School boards cannot allow athletes to participate in competitive athletic activities unless the athlete and the student and his or her parents read written materials, view online training or videos, or attend training sessions on concussions.
  • Municipalities must make information about concussions available to athletes and their parents (but there is no civil liability if they fail to do so)
  • Coaches must receive formal concussion training as well as refresher courses offered by the Connecticut State Board of Education (SBE). A coach’s permit can be revoked for failure to comply with training requirements.
  • If an athlete suffers a head injury, he or she must be immediately barred from competition until a physician issues medical clearance.
  • The school must notify the athlete’s parents within 24 hours of removing an athlete from competition due to a head injury.
  • Even after receiving medical clearance for certain activities, the athlete must be restricted from full competitive activity until a doctor issues final medical clearance.
  • School boards must collect and report all concussion occurrences annually, and they must send a compilation of this information to the Department of Public Health. That department must issue a report to the Connecticut legislature.

Compensation under Traditional Personal Injury Law

To win compensation for a concussion under Connecticut personal injury law, you must prove three facts:

  • The defendant was negligent;
  • You suffered losses in the amount of compensation you are claiming; and
  • Your losses were caused by the defendant’s negligence.

Negligence: In Connecticut, proof that the defendant violated a safety law, such as one of the laws stated above, is often considered to be proof of negligence. This might apply if, for example, the victim’s coach sent him back into competition without medical clearance and he suffered a second head injury. You can also prove negligence without proving any violation of the law.

Damages (losses): You will need to prove all of the damages you are claiming using admissible evidence. If you are claiming $10,000 in medical expenses and $25,000 in pain and suffering, for example, you will need to prove these amounts. Medical testimony, for example, might be enough to prove the extent of your pain and suffering.

Causation: You must prove that the defendant’s negligence actually caused your damages. This might be difficult if, for example, the coach violated the law by failing to inform the victim’s parents within 24 hours of the injury but no medical problem suffered by the victim could be traced to that failure.

Comparative fault: Your compensation could be reduced or even eliminated altogether if you are found to be partially at fault for your own injuries. This might occur if, for example, you voluntarily failed to properly use safety equipment.

The NFL Lawsuit

In 2016, the US Supreme Court affirmed a settlement by which the National Football League will pay around a billion dollars over the next 65 years to settle a lawsuit brought by tens of thousands of former NFL players. The lawsuit was filed over the league’s negligent approach to concussions and other head injuries. Although payouts vary, some players are receiving as much as $5 million.

Take Action Immediately

If you or your loved one has suffered a sports-related head injury, telephone Berkowitz Hanna anytime 24/7, or by contacting s online so that we can schedule a free initial consultation. We serve clients throughout Connecticut from our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Shelton. And remember: We charge no upfront fees, and we work for free unless we win your case.