Coaches Can Be Sued by Athletes For Additional Harm After Suspected Concussion

Submitted by LLG on September 24th, 2017 at 1:19 PM

This ruling by the Third Circuit (the federal appeals court that covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands) holds that student-athletes may sue for additional harm if a coach returns them to play after a suspected concussion.

You can read the decision here:

News article here:…

As the news article says:  The 3rd Circuit panel, in its ruling this week, held that a coach at a public school may be held liable where the coach requires a player who shows signs of a concussion "to continue to be exposed to violent hits."

"We hold that an injured student-athlete participating in a contact sport has a constitutional right to be protected from further harm, and that a state actor violates this right when the injured student-athlete is required to be exposed to a risk of harm by continuing to practice or compete," U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie wrote for the panel.



September 24th, 2017 at 1:34 PM ^

I think this ruling opens a whole new can of worms. I really support this for players playing for coaches who are negligent and are more concerned about winning than player safety. Putting the responsibility on the coach is equally negligent. School districts should be held liable when they choose NOT to spend the extra money to make sure qualified medical personnel is on the field at athletic events. That is even more criminal. So a school's money saving choice puts coaches at risk of being sued? I know plenty of kids that have tested out of protocol only to show symptoms days later. Coaches are required to watch an hour video and print out a certificate. Some states require head coaches to have First Aid certification. The bottomline is coaches are ill-trained to make concussion rulings other than to keep every kid out that sustains any type of head blow.


September 24th, 2017 at 1:35 PM ^

School Districts cannot be sued under this holding.  "Local governments, such as schooldistricts, cannot be held liable under §1983 for the acts of their employees. Instead, local governments may be found liable under §1983 for “their own illegal acts.” A municipality is liable under §1983 when a plaintiff candemonstrate that themunicipality itself, through the implementation of a municipalpolicy or custom, causes a constitutional violation."

So there would need to be a policy or practice of sending athletes back out for the District to be liable.

As far as coaches at private schools, they are not bound by the Constitution (it only applies to the government except for the 13th Amendment). 

With all of that said, there are enough state law claims that can be alleged, I imagine, that the coaches will be liable under some legal theory.

If I were a coach, I'd be taking out liability insurance.


September 24th, 2017 at 1:45 PM ^

If you don't have insurance, you'd be foolish to keep coaching and be held personally liable.  Everytime you coach, including practices, you are exposing yourself to being sued.  How many kids do some coaches oversee in a year (if you include camps, etc.)?

And even putting aside that, what do you have to do to protect yourself?  Videotape every practice?  That statute of limitations on these claims can be a long time (3 years in some states.  How do you remember what happened back then?  And you are guaranteed a jury trial if it is he said - he said stuff.




September 24th, 2017 at 1:36 PM ^

That the Third Circuit Court judges love to see those cases from the Virgin Islands come across their desk and do a lot of on-site research into those cases.

Steve in PA

September 24th, 2017 at 2:44 PM ^

This is sure to change how they play football in The Virgin Islands.

One the serious side, I think most schools have a protocol now.  Even when my son played at the dinky class A local school 6 years ago players were given preseason neurological evaluations.  If they were suspected of having a concussion even a little, using recognized protocol on the sidelines, they were pulled from the game.

Saturday morning instead of watching film they were put through a battery of exams that compared to their baseline.  They were not allowed to participate in practice until their evaluation put them back at the baseline again.  Sometimes it was several weeks with no obvious symptoms until they were allowed to participate.

You Only Live Twice

September 24th, 2017 at 4:14 PM ^

"continuing" to play, IF there are signs of concussion.  Coaches can't take the player's word they are OK, again if certain concussion symptoms are observed.  Requires a little more diligence of coaching staffs who weren't doing this already.