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Winter TBI Awareness Month


January is Winter Sports TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury, Awareness Month. The most common form of Traumatic Brain Injury is a concussion, and one of the winter sports in which concussions are extremely common is hockey. In fact, the National Hockey League (NHL) is facing a “concussion crisis” similar to the one faced by the National Football League (NFL) in the face of evidence linking the concussions sustained by football players during their careers and the degenerative brain disorders such as dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and Parkinson’s disease that many players suffer when retired. In March of 2016, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, acknowledged the science showing that concussive and sub-concussive hits to football players have a high likelihood of resulting in these neurologic brain disorders in the future.


Miller’s statement not only cast the nearly one billion dollar settlement in the NFL concussion lawsuit in a new light, but it also put pressure on the NHL to come forward and take responsibility in the concussion lawsuit pending against it. The original lawsuit was filed by the parents of Derek Boogaard, an NHL player known as an “enforcer” in the league. He suffered a serious concussion during a fight in 2010, and died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and painkillers in 2011. An autopsy revealed he had CTE; he was only 28 years old. His parents allege that the NHL knew of the risks to players like their son, but failed to warn them of the short and long-term dangers of repeated concussions and head trauma. Specifically, the lawsuit claims that the NHL profited from a “culture of violence” without offering adequate protection or warnings, and failed to adequately care for its players after they received such injuries and trauma.

The Boogaard lawsuit and other concussion lawsuits filed by former NHL players were eventually consolidated in Minnesota before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson. A class was certified with over 100 plaintiffs. In May of 2016, Judge Nelson denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. For now, another concussion lawsuit against another major professional sports league is proceeding toward trial. Or, perhaps, it is proceeding toward another settlement like that reached in the NFL lawsuit. Stay tuned.


You don’t have to be a professional hockey or football player to sustain a concussion, however. Participating in sports at all levels, especially winter sports such as hockey, skiing, and snowboarding, greatly increases your risk of suffering head trauma. One of the achievements of the NFL concussion lawsuit has been its positive role in youth football programs; the NFL, as required in their settlement, is to "provide $10 million in funding to support education programs promoting safety and injury prevention with respect to football players, including safety-related initiatives in youth football.” By 2014, the NFL had already committed $45 million to its Heads Up Football program for youth leagues founded to "advance player safety in the game of football." As of July 1, 2016 the program has helped lower concussion and injury rates in the participating high school football teams. The NFL settlement would be an extremely advantageous model for the NHL concussion lawsuit and any other league litigation dealing with head trauma.


Because concussions are more common than we think, it is good to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of one:

Symptoms: headache, neck pain, pressure in head, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and sound, fatigue/drowsiness

Physical Signs: unsteadiness, restricted neck movement and loss of balance

Impaired brain function: confusion, impaired eye opening response, unusual verbal responses, disorientation to date, time and place, difficulty with concentration, difficulty with memory, drowsiness/alertness

Abnormal: changes in breathing, personality, and emotional state

The above signs and symptoms should always be looked for and treated whenever someone has suffered a blow or hit to the head. A good first response to head trauma is: DR ABC: Danger, Response, Airways, Breathing, Circulation.


If you or someone you love has suffered a TBI due to participation in a sport, a blow to the head or an accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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