Liability for High School Brain Injury

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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As courts, schools, doctors, and parents become increasingly interested in the risk of brain injury amongst high school students, you should be aware of your legal options if your child is injured playing a sport or participating in a high school sponsored activity.  Whether your child suffers a concussion during an athletic competition, or is injured on school grounds, you may have an opportunity to receive compensation for the costs associated with the injury.  Suing a high school is complicated and difficult, and you should not take legal action without first consulting an attorney.

Concussions in High School Sports

The most common cause of brain injury to high school athletes is a concussion.  Concussion awareness has increased at all levels of sport, and you need to be able to keep close track of potential concussion-like symptoms should your child suffer a head injury.  According to the Center for Disease Control, a concussion can occur even if the child does not lose consciousness, and identifying symptoms can prevent serious brain injury or death.  Common concussion symptoms listed by the CDC include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Clumsy movement shortly after the event

Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to win a lawsuit over a concussion suffered by a student athlete.  Courts have been unwilling to impose liability on schools or coaches for students suffering concussions because it is difficult to prove coaches or teachers were negligent in the cause of the concussion, and, even if the school officials were negligent, it is tough to overcome school district immunity for injuries suffered during recreational activities.  While this does not mean you should abandon the possibility of legal action if your child suffers a concussion while playing a sport, it reinforces the need for a consultation with an experienced personal injury before you take action.

NOTE: If your child suffered a concussion because of faulty equipment, incompetence of the coaching staff, or an intentional act of violence by a coach or fellow player, you have a better chance of success than if your child suffered a head injury during the normal course of his or her sport.  It is critical that you have a detailed account of the circumstances before, during, and after the injury to help your attorney build a potential legal case.

Other Brain Injuries to High School Students

High school athletes are not the only children at risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury while under the care of their high school.  Students can be hurt after a slip and fall accident at school, suffer an injury in driver’s education, be injured in a fight, or get hurt in an accident while in a school bus or other vehicle under control of the school. When filing a lawsuit for an injury to your high school student, the standard negligence rules apply: 

  • You must establish the school had a duty to your child.  This is accomplished by showing the child was injured while under the care or control of the school or an employee.
  • You must show the school breached its duty of care.  If a teacher failed to keep track of your child before his or her injury, or a janitor failed to clean up a wet spot on the floor, or a school employee otherwise fails to provide the expected standard of care to protect your child, then you may be able to show the school breached its duty.
  • You must be able to show the school’s breach caused your child’s injury.  Proving cause is not as easy as you think as defendants are typically only responsible for causing an injury if the accident was a foreseeable result of the breach in duty – meaning the breach and the injury must be closely connected in a logical chain of events.
  • You must show your child suffered an injury.  If you child suffered a physical injury, this should be fairly easy to do.  Emotional damage is more difficult, but not impossible, to prove.

Even if you satisfy all the elements of negligence, you will need to overcome the burden of government immunity that protects school districts from lawsuits.  Government immunity laws vary from state to state, so you will need to speak with an attorney in your area before you take legal action against your child’s school.

Getting Help

Whatever the situation, you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney first. An attorney will help you sort through the circumstances behind the injury and the persons who may be responsible. Suing a government entity like a high school is difficult enough with an attorney, so do not put yourself at a disadvantage by taking on your child’s high school without legal assistance.

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