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Wrongful Death Claims and High School Sports Injuries

Casey Woodruff

undefinedIf you have been reading recent news surrounding the deaths of high school football players across the country, you know that student athlete safety should be a serious issue for Chicago schools. When we allow our children to play sports, we should not have to anticipate that they will suffer fatal injuries on the field. In tragic cases where youth athletes do sustain deadly injuries while playing football, who is responsible? And can surviving family members seek compensation by filing a wrongful death claim?

Recent Youth Football Deaths

Are high schools in the Chicago area doing enough to protect football players from the fatal injuries that have plagued other students across the country? In early September, a 16-year-old high school football player sustained a deadly injury when he was hit during a punt return, according to a report from CNN News. The student was rushed to the hospital, but the hit broke his neck, and he later died as a result of his injuries. This accident was the first in a recent string of deaths that have been reported by a shocking number of high schools.

A few weeks later, an article from ABC News reported that a 17-year-old high school football player suffered a fatal injury that resulted from “taking repeated tackles during a game.” The cause of death was later specified as a massive intra-abdominal hemorrhage, which resulted from the student suffering a spleen laceration. The report emphasized how “experts say that abdominal injuries can be hard to identify, especially in the heated moments of a close football game.” Yet Dr. Susannah Briskin, a sports medicine specialist, underscored that youth football players do not wear gear or padding that provides sufficient protection to the abdominal area. And many players who feel abdominal discomfort or pain do not realize that they are suffering from internal bleeding.

Shortly after reporting on the player’s death that resulted from internal bleeding, ABC News reported that another high school football player had sustained deadly injuries during play. This time, the 17-year-old athlete sustained a fatal head injury. According to the report, even youth football players are “particularly vulnerable to head injuries.” Indeed, high school players are “exposed to an entire spectrum of traumatic brain injury (TBI) from mild injury (concussions) to most severe . . . which are bleeding of the brain.” To prevent this kind of death, experts emphasize that parents and their children should be educated about the risks of TBI and high school football.

Football Injury Protocols and Responsibility in Illinois High Schools

According to the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), member schools have a particular responsibility to students when it comes to brain injury management. In addition to educating parents and players, school are required to:

  • Adopt a policy for dealing with student athlete brain injuries and suspected brain injuries; and
  • Ensure compliance with return-to-play (RTP) policies.

But it is not only schools that have a responsibility to students. Coaches, too, have responsibilities, including but not limited to:

  • Immediately removing players from the field when a brain injury is suspected; and
  • Not allowing an athlete who has been removed because of a suspected brain injury to return without meeting RTP protocols.

If certain policies and protocols are not followed and a player suffers a serious or fatal injury, a school and/or a coach may have been negligent. Under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act, when a person’s death results from a “wrongful act, neglect or default,” surviving family members may be able to recover.

If you have lost a child due to sports-related injuries, you should contact a Chicago wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to learn more about filing a wrongful death claim. Do not hesitate to contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans to learn more about how we can assist you.

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