Articles Posted in Sports Injuries

yoga studioIn many Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, the issues raised in the case are within the common understanding of jurors and the jurors are able to resolve the issues on their own. However, in more complex cases, or those that raise issues involving professional standards of care that may be beyond the scope of jurors’ common understanding, the plaintiff may need to present an expert witness in order to effectively explain certain issues.

Expert witnesses are most common in Washington, D.C. medical malpractice cases, but they are also used in other types of negligence cases. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 explains that a person may be considered an expert if they possess “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Once an expert is qualified, they are able to present opinion testimony if certain additional facts are met.

Expert witness testimony is critical in some Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, especially those involving issues that are unfamiliar to the jurors or in situations where the opposing party is presenting expert testimony. A recent case illustrates the importance of expert witness testimony.

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golf cartRecently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case raising an interesting issue that may arise in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases involving sports related injuries. The question involved the duty of care owed among co-participants in a sport event, and under what circumstances that duty applies.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and defendant were golfing together when the defendant struck the plaintiff while driving the golf cart. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, seeking compensation for the injuries he sustained in the accident.

The defendant claimed that, as a co-participant in the golfing game, he owed the plaintiff a duty to refrain from acting recklessly. The plaintiff argued that the standard was one of “negligence.” The trial court agreed with the defendant, imposing a reckless standard, and the jury resolved the case in the defendant’s favor. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court improperly applied the reckless standard.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving the question of whether a man who died while on a horseback-riding excursion assumed the risks involved with the activity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the type of accident in which the man was involved was the type that is commonly associated with horseback riding. The court determined that the man assumed these inherent risks by agreeing to participate in the activity, and therefore his loved ones could not hold the company that provided the ride legally responsible for his death.

Legal News GavelThe case illustrates an important legal issue for Washington, D.C. personal injury victims who have agreed to participate in what can be considered a dangerous activity.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving wife of a man who died while on a horseback-riding excursion that was provided by the defendant resort. On the day of the accident, the plaintiff’s husband joined about 20 others for a horseback ride. Prior to embarking on the ride, the man signed a release of liability indicating that he was aware that horseback riding presents certain risks, including falling off the horse, and that when these accidents occur, they can result in serious injuries or death.

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Earlier this month, a settlement was reached between a woman who was seriously injured while attending a track-and-field meet and the school where the injury occurred. According to a national news source covering the case, the accident occurred back in 2014 at a track meet for a local high school.

Legal News GavelEvidently, the 85-year-old plaintiff was struck by a discus that had been thrown by a student athlete while she was standing in an area that was designated for spectators. The woman and her husband filed a personal injury lawsuit against the school under a premises liability theory. The couple alleged that the area designated for spectators was negligently placed in a dangerous location. Specifically, the couple claimed that since the spectator area was too close to where the student athletes were competing, spectators were at an unreasonable risk of being injured.

After the incident, the school decided to push back the spectator area and install signage, warning spectators about the potential dangers. Ultimately, the plaintiff was offered $350,000 for her injuries by the school, and she accepted.

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been making headlines for the past year or so, as it was detected that this tragic degenerative brain disease has been affecting professional athletes. CTE has recently begun to be studied in-depth by many doctors and scientific researchers throughout the country. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that generally affects individuals who have incurred a significant amount of trauma to their head. Although CTE has just recently been garnering national recognition as a serious disease, it has actually been detected in professional boxers as early as the 1920s. However, recent studies focusing on the brains of deceased football players revealed that these players’ brain structures were severely damaged and included a build-up of abnormal proteins.

Legal News GavelUnfortunately, individuals experiencing this trauma often suffer significant and life-changing experiences. Some common symptoms that people report are depression, anxiety, aggression, memory and cognition problems, lack of impulse control, and impaired judgment. There have been tragic instances where athletes have committed suicide and it was later discovered that they were suffering with CTE.

The New York Times recently published an article focusing on a college football player who was discovered to be suffering from CTE. The football player was an offensive lineman for the University of North Carolina and was by all accounts a well-adjusted individual. However, after sustaining repeated injuries he ended up homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol. His family noted that he often complained that he felt that he was different and that “something was wrong with his brain.” The young college athlete ended up riding his bike straight into oncoming traffic and was killed after being hit by a car. His mother argued that she is sure that his actions qualify as suicide.

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Over the past few years, the National Football League and the National Hockey League have been involved in lawsuits brought by players, alleging that the league failed to adequately prevent and treat serious head injuries that can lead to life-threatening diagnoses, including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). New research indicates that professional athletes may not be the only ones at risk.

Legal News GavelThe Theory of Liability

Players in these lawsuits claim that the leagues they play in failed to adequately warn them of the potential for serious, life-threatening harm that can result from participating in the sport. Players claim that they were encouraged to get back onto the field or ice shortly after they suffered serious head injuries or concussions, and this has resulted in an increased risk of developing CTE. CTE is only diagnosable after someone has died, but people who suffer from the disease experience myriad symptoms, including anxiety, aggression, parkinsonism, depression, dementia, and even suicidality.

The crux of the players’ claim is that the league knew or should have known of the dangers present in playing the high-contact sports and should have taken more precautions and taken head injuries more seriously when they did occur. In fact, a group of NFL players recently reached a settlement with the NFL to establish a fund to compensate injured players. The details of that settlement are still being worked out.

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Earlier this month, a former football player for the University of California, Berkeley, has filed suit against the regents of the University, as well as several others, seeking damages for the long-term injuries he sustained as a result of his participation in the school’s football program. According to a local California news report, Bernard Hicks played in the position of safety for the Golden Bears for a period of about four years between 2004 and 2008. In all, Hicks played 32 games with the team.

Legal News GavelEvidently, during his tenure with the team, Hicks suffered numerous concussions during both games and practices. After leaving the team in 2008, Hicks alleges that he suffered from permanent and debilitating injuries, including depression, suicidal thoughts, memory loss, and problems with his vision.

The lawsuit, which also names the school’s head coach and athletic trainer, claims that the school should have been more proactive in educating the players regarding the long-term risks of neurological damage associated with participating in a high-impact sport such as football. Hicks claims that, had he been properly educated about the risks involved, he would have not participated or at least taken off more time in between games to allow himself to heal.

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Earlier this month, the National Football League adopted a new rule that allows a medical professional on the sidelines to pause the game and determine if a player should be assessed for a concussion. The new rule was announced amidst settlement negotiations between the NFL and a class of about 5,000 players who claim that the League failed to take adequate precautions to prevent brain injuries, including concussions.

Legal News GavelAccording to a recent article by ESPN, many in the sports world are applauding the measure, explaining that it will almost certainly prevent at least some of the head injuries that occur in the league.

How the New NFL Rule Works

According to the ESPN report, the new rule will work as follows:

  • An official in a booth on the sideline keeps an eye on players during the game, pausing the game if he believes that the player may have sustained a concussion.
  • The game’s clock will then stop and remain frozen during the pendency of the examination.
  • The injured player’s team will be given an opportunity to substitute in another player, and the opposing team will then be allowed to substitute a match-up, if necessary.
  • At no point will coaches be allowed onto the field, and there will be no headset communication permitted. Also, no players will be allowed to the sideline unless they are being substituted out.
  • The player in question will then undergo an evaluation and, depending on the result, may or may not return to play for the rest of the game.

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