Personal Injury Series – Sports Injuries feature image

Personal Injury Series – Sports Injuries

In one of our past posts, we discussed various causes of traumatic brain injuries (also known as TBIs). Sports are often a significant source of traumatic brain injuries, especially sports that involve heavy contact. Over the past decade, due to advances in scientific and medical research, personal injury lawyers and others who regularly see the effect of sports injuries have been learning more and more about the long-term effects of such injuries on the brain.


Concussions are the most common type of sports injury leading to a traumatic brain injury. Depending on the sport they play, some athletes may experience multiple concussions over their athletic career, which will have a compounding effect on the brain. Sometimes the effects of these injuries do not manifest for years after the injury occurred.

Recently, doctors have been able to provide more and more information to the public about the long-term effects of concussions in certain athletes, such as football players.  Due to the heavy contact nature of football, especially with the tackles, these athletes are prone to head trauma. Concussions and all other types of injuries in all sports are getting more attention in the news, especially in football.

In some cases, concussions are the result of illegal actions. In the sporting context, there are rules about what types of contact are allowed, and others that are prohibited because they are dangerous. If the leagues or teams do not enforce their rules and regulations properly, they may be liable for damages. The ability to sue will depend on the capacity in which you are playing a sport (professionally vs amateur) and what rules are in place for dealing with injuries.

It is important to remember that while in the past, some of these hits and resulting concussions were just accepted as part of the game, that mentality is changing as we learn more about the detrimental effects of concussions. Former professional athletes are suing leagues for how they have handled injuries in the past and it is developing a conversation on how to better protect athletes.

Major League Sports and Head Injuries

In one of the largest studies of its kind published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that that of 111 deceased National Football League (“NFL”) players, 110 of them had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”).

CTE is a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma and has been linked to suicidal behaviour, dementia, and declines in memory, function, and mood. CTE has four stages. It often appears years after the injuries and may exhibit as depression. One of the biggest challenges in addressing CTE is that it cannot be diagnosed until someone has died and their brain tissue can be examined.

The results of this study are relevant to both athletes who play football, and athletes who play other high contact sports. For instance, in hockey, players are often hit in the head or hit into the side boards, which can result in concussion and other head injuries.

Over the past 5-10 years, sports organizations like the NFL and the National Hockey League (NHL), have been implementing protocols that must be followed after a hit to the head or a hit that appears to have had an effect on the brain. There are concussion protocols that players must pass in order to be allowed to play again, and in some situations, football players are not allowed back on the field for weeks.

Class Action Lawsuit Against the NFL

While the NFL has introduced this new protocol and is attempting to be more accountable for its players, some retired NFL players believe that the League previously knew about the effects of head injuries and the long-term consequences and failed to protect them.

In 2011, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the NFL for the League’s handling of concussions and other safety issues. Approximately 20,000 former NFL players are part of the suit, and because of the large number of players and lawyers involved, the original settlement of $765 million was revised and the NFL is now expected to pay over $1 billion in damages.

Brain Injuries Caused by Other Sports

Cycling is also another sport that results in brain injuries. While there is no contact with other athletes, accidents do happen. Sometimes accidents involve other people or objects, including motor vehicles. In these cases, there may be grounds to sue the motor vehicle operator and get damages for your injuries as the operator may be at fault for the accident.

Horseback riding, snowboarding, skiing, ice hockey, and soccer are all sports that see frequent head injuries. Although most of these sports require athletes to wear some sort of protective head/body gear, that is not always enough.

Liability in some of these sports will depend on the sport and the inherent risk involved. For example, with skiing and snowboarding, people assume some risk when they go on a ski hill. However, if the ski hill is not properly maintained or the runs are not properly marked, then the company or municipality that manages the hill may be liable for any injuries that occur. We’ve previously discussed liability when it comes to tobogganing accidents and whether a city or municipality can be held liable.

Personal Injury Claims and Sports

In order to have a successful personal injury claim in sports, the injured party must show that another party (individual, municipality, etc.) was negligent and as a result, the injured party was injured.

In professional sports, most players do not sue other players if they are seriously injured and the contact was prohibited. However, as we have seen with the NFL, if the organization in charge of the sport is seen as being negligent in how it handles different types of injuries and how it regulates play, then professional athletes have sued.

For amateur athletes, it is important to know when you can and cannot sue because an injury such as a TBI can greatly affect your life. It may affect your ability to work, to continue playing sports and to go about your day-to-day life. In some circumstances, it may be the organization that governs the sport you are playing in that may be liable. In other situations, it may be the player who injured you.

If you have seriously injured yourself while playing sports, you may have a claim for damages. To find out what your options are, contact HMC Lawyers today. Our Personal Injury lawyers have the experience and compassion to help you through this difficult time. Call us at 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online to make an appointment today. With offices in Calgary, we represent professionals in Calgary, throughout Alberta, and across Western Canada.

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