Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Legal Week Day 2: Mehr et al v. Federation Internationale de Football Association et al

Back in August of 2014 a group of parents sued FIFA and several US based soccer organizations, claiming in part they failed to warn or protect children from concussions. A particular focus regarded repetitive heading of the ball.

While the suit was dismissed (opinion here) for reasons I will briefly go into, there is a point lurking in there somewhere as some of the sports greats and future greats have had a career cut short due to these injuries. Taylor Twellman comes to mind among many.

We have seen the serious effects of concussion (in general in The Game) not just from headers in the 2014 World Cup with a staggering Christoph Kramer asking the referee " ... is this the final?"

In the US, risks of head injuries in sports has been a recurring concern. In mid-2014 the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) agreed to settle a head injury lawsuit by creating a $70 million fund for concussion testing. Some of the same lawyers involved in that case filed the subject lawsuit.

While the suit at hand sought no "direct damages" (i.e. money to the plaintiffs) it did look to institute a (unbelievably broad) medical monitoring program, as well as attorneys fees and tried to alter the LOTG to "limit" the number of time players could head the ball and making it "easier" to substitute if such an injury is suspected.

The suit against FIFA was dismissed and can not be brought again as the judge made it clear FIFA had no standing in such a case. In short, the ties to the US game are too tenuous to drag them into court over this issue. Plaintiffs tried *hard* to do this ... but no avail.

The suit against the US organizations, see p.3 of the opinion for a nifty chart, was also dismissed, but not prejudicially so ... it can come back, and I believe will. In part the dismissal was the fact the all of the plaintiffs did not currently have injuries that were being claimed. In short, they (fortunately) all recovered from their injuries that lead to the suit in the first place. Also part of the decision was the fact the parents (of the minors) knew and assumed the risk of the possibility of injury of the type claimed.

There were a few statements when this was first filed that caught my eye. First was the AYSO saying it's "... highest priority is creating a safe and nurturing environment where kids can play and have fun ..." and AYSO requires any player exhibiting signs of a concussion immediately be removed for the remainder of the day.


Any AYSO referees out there aware of that? It is certainly not uniformly adopted across the US.

Also, from the attorneys, a well crafted and foreboding statement:
"For many families soccer is seen as a terrific alternative to football ... . Parents are often relieved when their children choose soccer. However, soccer ranks among the top sports in the number of concussions per game."

I'll tell you folks (and for any who have heard me speak on the topic you have) as a referee, don't mess around here. If a player takes a knock in the head, stop the game and get the coaches. Don't evaluate, don't try to play through, stop and get the coach or trainer.

Also, know the symptoms of a concussion, not to medically diagnose one as this by many reports can take 8-10 minutes, but to be casually familiar if you see such behavior. If you do, stop the match and get the coach or trainer. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, stop right there.

We are in a funny time right now where the rule making bodies and organizing folks are under threat of suit, scared, and don't know how to proceed as a whole. (In conversations it is clear many folks do know how to proceed but getting a large body to agree is the issue here) As referees lets make it easy on them, and in turn ourselves.

A blow to the head, stop, get help, and remove the player.

Signs of a concussion, stop, get help, and remove the player.

Yes, you may tick a few folks off in stopping play when particularly advantageous circumstances exists, but I would argue, those folks who would ask to continue when another player is suffering such a condition, have a "head injury" themselves.

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