The recognition and treatment of sport-related injuries is one of the most difficult problem athletic trainers and team physicians face. In the United States, more than 300.000 sport-related traumatic brain or head injuries occur each year, with a high incidence in football, softball, basketball, boxing, baseball, ice hockey and rugby. These are serious injuries than can result in permanent brain injuries and even death. The medical cases with the most media attention involve death as a result of a heart condition.
- Duty of care
Because athletic trainers and team physicians must provide medical clearance, they can be held liable for a medical negligence claim if they prematurely clear athletes and even if they do not allow them to play. The courts recognize the existence of a duty between competitive athletes and athletic trainers. If an athletic trainer is treating a player, than the trainer has the duty to provide or obtain proper medical treatment, properly assess the athlete’s condition, inform the athlete of the risks and correctly assess the athlete’s condition.
- Breach of duty
If an athletic trainer has breached a legal duty, the situation is assessed from his adherence to accepted sports medicine practice known as the “reasonable person standard”. Because athletic trainers practice in different settings with different access to staff, facilities, equipment and resources, hey are expected to act how any other professional would in a similar situation. However, if the trainer is accused of medical negligence, the standard of care will be established by expert testimony based on certification programs, national athletic training certification boards, state licensing requirements and standardized training programs. The patient who suffered from negligence is expected to seek medical negligence attorneys who can advise him on the steps and actions that must be taken in order to file for a claim. It is also the medical negligence attorneys who determine whether there is a case in the first place, and make an estimate of what the patient could receive if the case is won.
- The case of Pinson v State
The case of Pinson v State involved Michael Ray, a student-athlete who suffered a blow to his head and collapsed during training. The athletic trainer noticed an absence of control of the left side of his body, unequal pupils, a palsy on the left side of his face and an absence of response for 10 minutes. Although the trainer instructed another student trainer to accompany Pinson to the hospital, he did not provide essential information regarding his initial condition and the symptoms he observed. After the skull radiography, Pinson’s neurological checks were normal and the attending physician recommended a week of hospitalization.
After he was released from the hospital, Pinson complained of a headache and the trainer gave him aspirin. Although he complained for the next several days, the athletic trainer reported to the physician that the player did not present with any of the symptoms of a concussion. Over the next 3 weeks he experienced nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and headaches but the athletic trainer did not report his symptoms. One month after his injury, Pinson collapsed and and underwent brain surgery for a chronic subdural hematoma. He remained in a coma for a few weeks and suffered permanent brain damage. He was unable to use his left arm and left leg. A lawsuit was files and the Claims Commissioner held that the trainer has a duty to report the initial symptoms and the headaches to the physician.