Is Football Affecting Your Case?

American football on white background.

Summer is over and football is back.  My University of Texas Longhorns are off to a great start with a big season-opening win over Notre Dame.  Even my daughter’s high school is 2-0.  Everything about football season is great, right?

Maybe not.

You see, football season may be affecting your case.

Earlier this week, the Atlantic published a concerning story about a study from LSU economists Naci Mocan and Ozkan Eren, who found that the results of college football games affect how judges rule.  The story states:

In looking at decisions handed down by judges in Louisiana’s juvenile courts between 1996 and 2012, the pair found that when LSU lost football games it was expected to win, judges — specifically those who had earned their bachelor’s degrees from the school — issued harsher sentences following the loss.  When the team was ranked in the top 10 before the losing game, kids wound up behind bars for about two months longer, on average.  When the team was not as highly ranked, it was a little more than a month.

This was a pretty broad study, looking at over 8,200 cases involving 207 judges.  The economists screened for the kids’ behavior in court, economic background, and even tested placebos through non-LSU games, and none of those factors had the same impact as football.

Some have criticized the findings, but the economists hope that their research will strengthen a growing body of evidence that suggests emotions influence unrelated decisions and that the study will perhaps help judges become aware of the decision-making and make the judges more careful.

That emotion is an issue.  Those of us who are trial lawyers know that jurors and judges often make emotional decisions and then try to subconsciously rationalize those decisions through their view of the logic of the case.  We’ve factored in for that.  But I guess now, we need to start asking jurors in voir dire about their football teams too.

Having said all that, enjoy Friday Night Lights, college football and the NFL this weekend.

 

Posted on: September 9, 2016 | Tagged

Mediation/Settlement Lessons From An NBA Trade

basketballI’m not a huge NBA fan, but over the last few days, I have been listening to a variety of talk show hosts discuss the trade of former NBA MVP Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks in exchange for a few of the Knicks’ players.

Normally, that wouldn’t be all that news-worthy, especially in the lawsuit context.  But one of the commentators made a point that was familiar to me.

When this commentator was asked who got the better part of the trade, the Bulls or the Knicks, the commentator laughed and said, “You know, both of the fan bases are pretty unhappy with the trade, which tells me that it was probably a pretty fair trade.”

I laughed to myself when I heard that because that’s advice I find myself giving a lot of clients.  In most settlements, the plaintiff settled for less than they really wanted, and the defendant paid more than they really wanted.  And I usually tell clients that when that happens, it’s a pretty good indication that the settlement is a fair settlement.

Now, that’s not to say that we never have a negotiation or settlement where we feel like we’ve been overly-compensated, but it’s rare — insurance companies aren’t in the business of just handing out money.  And in NBA or NFL or MLB trades, there are some trades where you can look at the deal and know that one side was really coming out much better than the other.

But more often than not, in most trades and in most settlement negotiations, both sides usually end up walking away a little disappointed, and that’s usually a signal that it was probably a pretty fair result.

 

Posted on: June 24, 2016 | Tagged

NCAA Settles Its Own Concussion Lawsuit

I’ve written often about the lawsuits between the NFL and former professional football players regarding their concussions.  Now, the NCAA is settling (or at least trying to settle) its own lawsuit about sports-related concussions.

Under the proposed class action settlement, the NCAA will fund a $70 million pool of money to pay for former college athletes to undergo testing to determine whether they have brain injuries.  The settlement will also have the NCAA set mandated “return to play” policy that all schools must follow instead of letting each school have its own policy.  This would obviously help protect athletes in the future.

The settlement does not pay the athletes any damages for their concussions.  Instead, the athletes would still have to sue their former schools or other parties to recover those damages.  The test results that the NCAA is funding might be able to play a part in the eventual lawsuits.

This settlement is a long way from being final.  It has to be approved by a judge and there are a number of people who intend to object to the settlement on various grounds.  We’ll try to keep you posted because I think these type of developments are crucial to bringing public light to head injuries and they also help lead to better protocol for all levels of sports, not just colleges.

 

Here’s an ESPN news story about the settlement.

Head Injuries: New Settlement In NFL Concussion Lawsuit

helmet smallYou may recall that the previous settlement agreement between the National Football League and a class of former players was scrapped by the judge, who was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough funds to fully compensate the injured players who sustained head injuries.

Yesterday, the parties entered into a new settlement agreement.  Unlike the last settlement, this settlement isn’t capped at any specific amount.  This ensures that any former player who develops a qualifying neurocognitive condition will be compensated for the injury.

This is an interesting way forward.  Obviously, we represent a number of clients who have sustained head injuries, so I know the ways that these types of injuries can affect someone.  But I’ve also done some work on class actions, and it’s highly unusual to craft a settlement that doesn’t have a cap on the damages.  It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds and whether the ultimate amount paid out will surpass the $765 million that was being set aside in the prior agreement.

Head Injuries, Concussions and ImPACT

The human brainI’ve had the pleasure of helping those who have suffered from head injuries for almost twenty years now.

But my perspective on these things changed about six weeks ago.  At that time, my son was playing baseball, fell and hit his head, and he sustained a concussion.

Naturally, because of my experience in head injury cases, I panicked and feared the worst.

Once we took him to the hospital and had him undergo a CT scan to rule out a hidden brain bleed, my fears were reduced.  At that time, he had some headaches, a little bit of dizziness when standing up, and a little bit of nausea.  I knew from my experience that, once the brain bleed was ruled out, he’d likely be fine with a little (or a lot) of rest and time as long as he didn’t sustain a second concussion before his brain healed (second-impact syndrome – problems caused when a person has a second concussion before being healed from an initial concussion – can be catastrophic).

But then, we were faced with the harder question, “How do we know when he’s better?  When is it okay to let him start participating in activities again?  He looks fine, he isn’t having symptoms, but how do we know his brain is actually healed?”

Going through his treatment, we learned about ImPACT testing.  ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a widely-used and scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.  This test measures cognitive abilities and  cognitive processing of participants.  When people take the test after a concussion, it can help medical providers make a determination of when the injured brain is healed.

But the key is having a baseline —- knowing what your cognitive abilities and processing are BEFORE you sustain a concussion.  That way, doctors know whether you’re scoring as well as you did before you had the brain injury.

In our case, we didn’t know about the test before my son’s accident, and we didn’t have a baseline.  My son’s medical providers were able to take his test scores and compare them to averages, but they weren’t able to definitively tell us if his brain was able to think and process as well as it did before the concussion.

But that’s a problem.  And it’s why the NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR and many universities and school districts require their athletes to have a baseline ImPACT test and score before the athletes are allowed to participate in those sports.

Having gone through this, I think more parents need to know about it.  If you or your child participate in sports, dance, cheer or other athletic activities, I urge you to have your child take the baseline test sooner rather than later.  The baseline test is relatively inexpensive.  I know that the specialist who treated my son offer the pre-concussion testing for $20.  This testing cane be done online, at home.  This is a small price to pay to help protect your kids.

If you want to learn more or find someone in your area who can administer a baseline test,  visit the ImPACT website at  www.impacttest.com.

New Research Combats Linear and Rotational Forces with Contact Athletic Helmets

Hits to the head can cause traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Such hits are extremely common in many contact sports, including football, placing the risks involved in play under close scrutiny in recent years.

Not many think about the consequences of head injuries on the field. Many are more interested in who was tackled and what the score is, even if there was headbutting along the way. Unfortunately, this lack of concern extends to current equipment design: football helmets are not sufficiently constructed to prevent traumatic brain injuries.

Currently, TBI occurs 1.7 million times per year in the U.S., and roughly 20 percent of cases are the direct result of athletic activity. Many of these head injuries also include concussions, a precursor to long-term brain damage. Thankfully, researchers are now examining standards for a better, safer helmet — one that can withstand both linear and rotational force, the two types of dynamic forces players experience during a football game.

Existing football helmets are designed to withstand linear force, but they neglect the impact rotational force can have. Linear hits are direct, centered, frontal hits that push the head straight backwards. Helmets can blunt linear force effects to a certain extent, but they do not accommodate for rotational hits, known to cause about 40 percent of today’s sporting head injuries.

Rotational hits happen because of the round shape of a helmet. Some frontal hits bounce off the helmet’s crown. Typically, those hits slide to the side with a shearing motion, shaking the brain in the process. This phenomenon may even occur after low-impact hits. A combination of these two types of hits can cause serious head injuries and long-term cognitive problems.

Researchers in Florida are hoping to create a helmet that offers two kinds of protective chambers to cushion the skull and help the brain remain stable when hit. The proposed design layers non-Newtonian and Newtonian fluids. Non-Newtonian fluids are typically gels. Newtonian fluids include air and water. Ideally, the two layers would work together to offer protective padding and to reduce impacts to the head by absorbing the energy of a hit and distributing it evenly across the helmet’s surface.

It’s a unique concept. One layer receives the force of a hit, which compresses the fluid in that layer. Because of that layer’s compression, the fluid expands through a tube to the next layer, which acts to neutralize the force. Once pressure is removed, the protective chambers rebound to their original states (meaning, among other things, that the helmets could be used repeatedly). The new design is effective in the lab, but wider testing needs to be performed in partnership with companies interested in producing the helmets.

These helmets may also have applications for athletes in other sports, firefighters, construction workers, motorcyclists, cyclists, skateboarders and soldiers. They should be as effective for children as for adults. The protective layers are designed to be inexpensive, and they may be produced to retrofit existing helmets.

These safety developments are exciting, especially when one considers that in 2013, NFL penalty statistics reveal that each football player sustained at least one illegal hit to the neck or head in virtually every game.

Derek Boogaard’s wrongful death lawsuit may open a big can of litigational worms

More than 4,500 sports figures suffering from traumatic brain injuries each get a small portion of the $756 million paid out by the National Football League (NFL). The settlement keeps relevant documentation out of court.

The NFL was mostly known for the caliber of its players. Now, it is known for hiding the risks of athletes sustaining multiple head injuries while scrimmaging on the field, head injuries that resulted in traumatic brain injury (TBI), also referred to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

It was a large settlement, and one that was hailed as progress for those who sued the NFL for negligently withholding information about the risks of multiple head traumas. However, this is not the end of the issue. While the out-of-court settlement did pay out a large sum, it also managed to keep exculpatory documentation out of court. It also meant no one heard what witnesses had to say.

Down the line, every sport that involves full-body contact of some kind, will, without a doubt, face the same or similar concussion litigation. It is not beyond reason to anticipate that the NHL, NBA, MLB, and the NCAA may face such lawsuits. In fact, the NCAA is already facing down a massive TBI lawsuit.

TBI litigation began with the NFL. It is now making its presence felt with lawsuits filed by survivors of hockey players who took their own lives as a result of CTE. A case in point is that of 28-year-old Derek Boogaard’s family launching a wrongful death lawsuit alleging the NHL is responsible for his brain trauma and addiction to pain drugs. The defendants in that suit are the NHL, its Board of Governors and well-known league commissioner, Gary Bettman.
If the attorney handling that case is able to prove that the NHL was negligent in the way they treated Boogaard in relation to handing out painkillers and encouraging him to fight, sustaining multiple head injuries, the case stands a chance of opening the floodgates of litigation for other similar lawsuits. There is also the possibility of an extremely large award for damages.

What may tell the tale of success is the evidence in the complaint that includes, but is not limited to, the fact that NHL staff and doctors allegedly wrote him prescriptions for 432 pills of hydrocodone in one month, injected him 13 times with a pain masking drug, wrote him further prescriptions for 1,021 pain pills and encouraged him, in his role of enforcer, to instigate 66 fights over 277 games, sustaining multiple head injuries. His autopsy showed he had Stage II CTE.

The CTE revelation and Boogaard’s treatment are strikingly similar to how many of the NFL players were treated. Should Boogaard’s wrongful death lawsuit be successful, watch for more lawsuits of a similar nature filed against other leagues.

Posted on: November 27, 2013 | Tagged

Brett Favre’s Admissions Shed Light On Traumatic Brain Injuries

In an interview this week, retired NFL quarterback (and all around tough guy) Brett Favre discussed memory loss issues he’s been having since retirement.  Favre attributes these issues to potential brain injuries he suffered as a player.

Favre isn’t alone in these types of symptoms.  We’ve had the pleasure of representing a number of clients who have suffered from brain injuries.  Sadly, memory loss is a popular symptom.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the concussion issues arising in the NFL and in the military are terrible.  But they may be the best thing to happen to traumatic brain injury patients.  These stories have put a light on the issues of concussions and brain injuries, and they’re also sparking research that might help my clients and others as they seek to return to normal lives.

Parents do not understand risks children are exposed to playing contact sports

Playing contact sports carries the risk of long-term brain damage. It only takes a minor concussion to affect the brain.

Reading the sports section of the paper is depressingly dismal, as lately it contains stories about well-known and respected athletes who are suffering from traumatic brain injury or have taken their own lives as a result of those injuries. It is dismal for a number of reasons: to know that these athletes played and were allowed to keep playing, despite their concussions, that traumatic brain injury was apparently common knowledge, even years ago, but nothing was done about it, and that these individuals are suffering, or committed suicide, as the result of the negligence of others.

Consider the case of Tom McHale, who played in the National Football League (NFL) from 1987 to 1995. He died of an overdose in 2008. Addicted to painkillers, he also struggled with severe depression. His autopsy showed traumatic brain injury. His wife decided to share the news of his autopsy with others in order to help them understand that those with brain injuries are experiencing neurological issues that are not their fault. This a major reason thousands of former football players, 4,200, or close to a third of the 12,000 players in the league, are suing the NFL.

The NFL thinks the cases should be within the purview of an arbitrator. Legal counsel thinks the cases need to be heard in federal court. Most of the cases argue that the NFL made a huge profit from the violence of the sport and chose to ignore the damage to players sustaining numerous hits to the head. Other evidence suggests the league deliberately hid what they knew about the science of neurological problems being linked to concussions.

One wonders what the league was hoping to accomplish when they set up a group of people to take a look at the correlation between these two issues. Their committee, launched in 1994 and called the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee, was led by a rheumatologist. Two things stand out about the committee, and the first was calling it “mild” traumatic brain injury, as if that somehow diminished its impact or consequences. It does not. The issue is that frequent hits to the head add up over time causing dementia and other problems. The second point is that the committee was led by a doctor with no particular experience with head injuries.

The bottom line is that whatever the judge hearing the arguments decides, the case(s) will be worth billions to both sides. There is a lot at stake. Former players that are still alive and fighting depression, Alzheimer’s and dementia, suggest the league was negligent is hustling them back into play after they suffered concussions. The few that do not currently have issues, want their health closely monitored. The defining issue in the argument as to where the cases should be heard is whether or not the player’s contracts clearly spell out that head trauma/injuries are workplace safety issues.

All in all, this is an issue that will not go away anytime soon. If you have young children who want to play contact sports, you might wish to rethink that. As it stands, no one knows the true risks and consequences our children take when playing them.

Coaches are behind the times when it comes to traumatic brain injury

Even though traumatic brain injury is receiving more attention than every before, many coaches are lagging behind when it comes to doing something about it.

For many areas of the U.S., football is the social stitching that holds the fabric of a community together. Playoffs are a time of intensity, hard-hitting action, and a stand jammed pack with locals watching for those rough-and-tumble plays. More often than not, many in the stands are even secretly anticipating the sound of helmets crunching against each other, as one player takes another down. The crowd figures “seeing stars” is a normal part of the game. It is not.

This most recent off-season brought news of two National Football League (NFL) players taking their own lives. Along with that also came news that former NFL players were suing the League for keeping critical information from them relating to brain trauma and how it could affect them in the long-term. The time to do something about brain injuries is long past, and there is a lot of catching up to do, much of it by small-townfootball coaches.

Witness the case of a small rural high school, with a football team of go-getters, raring to make a name for themselves. During their practice scrimmages, several players get their “bells rung.” They keep on playing. One cannot recall what happened on the field of a most recent game. He was hit so hard, his memories only include being carried off the field, but he does not know why.

He did get hit. Hard. He is still trying to recover some semblance of normalcy in his daily life, but after four concussions in a short period of time, his doctor has banned him from sports for the foreseeable future. He may face up to two years down time before he can play again, if ever. He played through four concussions and his coach let him.

In small town America, football is a religion. Changing any of the rules about playing, or pulling players out because they got shaken up is frowned upon. However, even though many coaches are resistant to change, the awareness about concussions spreading to every corner of the nation. Small football venues with a coach for the local team are being forced into the mainstream of media awareness about traumatic brain injury.

The tide of media coverage is the harbinger of change. Between 2009 and 2011, the District of Columbia and 33 states passed laws, taking direct aim at preventing concussions in sports involving youth. Another 15 states have legislation on the table this year. Only Arkansas and Montana have done nothing. It’s time for change.

If your child has been involved in a sport that involves a high risk of brain injury, and the coaching staff did not advise them of the risks, or provide them with proper equipment, and they were injured you need to talk to an experienced Austin personal injury lawyer.

Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke


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