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Legal Liability for Sports-Related CTE

Legal Liability for Sports-Related CTE

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has become a focus issue for sports in general, and especially for contact sports like football and boxing. CTE is connected to repetitive brain trauma from blows to the head. It is a progressive degenerative disease, leading to serious symptoms like memory loss, depression, and dementia. CTE is usually only diagnosed after the ill person dies. For someone who is dealing with problems that are potentially related to sports-induced head trauma, pursuing a lawsuit may be an option.

Potential legal theories for CTE litigation

Litigation for sports-related head injuries can follow several different strategies. The best strategy for a given situation can only be determined by an attorney who has carefully examined the available evidence. But generally speaking, these are the most likely theories upon which a case would rest:

  • Personal injury. A sports league, whether at the professional or amateur level, owes its participants a duty to ensure that the activity is reasonably safe. Failing to do so could expose the league to a personal injury claim based in negligence. For example, a peewee football club that doesn’t take adequate care to ensure that its players’ helmets fit properly could be responsible for the consequences of resulting concussions. A league can also be responsible for not taking reasonable steps to respond to head injuries when they do occur. Personal injury suits may also be appropriate against individuals who have behaved negligently.
  • Products liability. If helmets or other safety equipment do not perform as intended, a plaintiff might have a products liability claim against the manufacturer or seller. Among other things, a products liability claim in Nevada must show that the product had a defect that made it unreasonably dangerous. Nev. J.I. 7.02. This standard may be challenging to overcome absent compelling facts. For example, helmet manufacturer Riddell is facing litigation for alleged misrepresentations in its advertising.
  • Wrongful death. Because CTE is often only recognized after the sufferer dies, the individual’s heirs or representatives may wish to bring a wrongful death suit against a league or individuals that they believe negligently caused the death of their loved one.

Challenges for CTE lawsuits

A lawsuit arising out of CTE will probably face a number of significant challenges. These are just a few examples:

  • Proving causation. For many CTE litigants a major difficulty will be proving that the specific defendant in a case was responsible for the underlying cause of the condition. Because CTE develops over time, it may have many sources. For example, a football player who began his career as a child might have difficulty establishing whether his injuries arose at the peewee level or in middle school, high school, or college.
  • Passage of time. Because CTE is a progressive disease, many years may divide the triggering injuries and diagnosis. The passage of time can render evidence unavailable and erode memories. In this regard, it doesn’t help that CTE affects memory.
  • Assumption of risk. Because CTE tends to be linked most strongly to contact sports like football, boxing, or hockey, defendants may focus on the injured player’s assumption of risk as a participant. This will probably become more prevalent as awareness grows about CTE and other head injuries. Although someone injured in the era before CTE was widely known might not have known about it, and therefore might not have been able to willingly assume the risk, the situation is arguably different today.
  • Liability waivers. Participants in amateur sports typically are asked to sign liability waivers that limit the legal responsibility of organizers and others. It’s always important to read such waivers carefully before signing them.

Consult with experienced personal injury lawyers

CTE can be a particularly devastating injury for people suffering from it and for the loved ones who care for them. Especially when CTE leads to unmanageable medical costs, litigation may offer a path to financial relief. The personal injury attorneys at GGRM have served the Las Vegas community for over 45 years. For a free attorney consultation call us today at 702-388-4476, or send us a request on our contact page.