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Did "Reckless Disregard" for Player Safety Cause Disabling Brain Injuries?

football-801047_640.jpgReckless disregard for player safety in sports years ago may be responsible for disabling and even deadly brain injuries today. The problem has gained nationwide attention in recent years as former players and their physicians investigate latent conditions like CTE that may have been caused by repeated concussions or serious head injuries that were suffered during participation in sports in the past. New regulations and rules have been introduced to protect players from the long-term harm that traumatic brain injuries create. Changes to safety regulations today, however, do nothing to protect players of yesterday.   

Former Notre Dame Player Dies from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Former Notre Dame football player Steve Schmitz died in February 2015. Prior to his death, his physicians diagnosed him with braindisease that was related to repeated concussions he suffered while playing for the school.

Steve and his wife sued Notre Dame in 2014 claiming the school had shown recklessdisregard for player safety and that the school had failed to provide proper protection for players when he played for the school in the 1970s.   

The Argument

The couple argued that Steve's diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathywhich leads to dementia was the result of injuries he sustained as a football player. These injuries went undiagnosed until 2014 when the couple received the diagnosis and filed suit against Notre Dame. They also alleged that the school had instructed Steve to use his head to strike opponents on the field with the full knowledge that this could cause injuries.  

For their part, Notre Dame argued that the statute of limitations had expired and that there was no way to definitely say that Steve's injuries were the result of hits he had taken while playing for the team. The school sought to have the case dismissed, but in October 2018 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations had not expired and the case can move forward.

Long-Term Injuries for Sports Players

The Schmitz case highlights the long-term damage sports injuries can cause. There are currently over 100 similar lawsuits pending in Chicago alone. The sheer number of suits indicate that the Schmitz case is far from unique and that many players have suffered similar long-term damage stemming from injuries that were suffered decades ago.     

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