Soccer Team Violates State Law By Failing To Provide Concussion Materials To Family, But Is Not Liable For Causing Player’s Concussion

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Mar 25, 2024

On December 13, 2017, Sydney, then age 14, practiced with her Premier soccer team at the Northeast Regional Recreation Center, a Baltimore County owned facility located in Parkville, Maryland.

One night, Sydney’s team was practicing in the facility on Field 2 when she collided with another player.  She fell into the wooden wall bordering the field, hitting her head, and causing a concussion.  Her injury was addressed immediately, however, she could no longer play soccer and claimed to have sustained permanent injuries.

In December 2019, Sydney and her family filed suit against several defendants, including Premier, alleging that the accident occurred because the lights were off over Field 2, such that Sydney was unable to see adequately and causing her to collide with another player and fall into the wall.

Premier moved for summary judgment, claiming that Sydney assumed the risk by playing a contact sport, regardless of the lighting conditions, and was herself negligent under the law.  The Parties held a hearing on the summary judgment motions, at which point another issue came up—whether Sydney was provided with the Maryland State Department of Education’s (MSDE) information on Concussions for Public Schools and Youth Sport Programs.  The trial court denied Premier’s motion for summary judgment.

In September 2022, Premier filed a second motion for summary judgment, asserting that failure to provide the concussion materials was not the cause of Sydney’s injury and would not have protected her from falling and hitting her head on the wall.  This would only be true if the materials would have caused Sydney’s parents to withdraw her from practice entirely, of which there was no evidence.  Premier also argued that the statute did not include preventive measures, such as requiring helmets, prohibiting unpadded walls, or requiring space between the field of play and perimeter walls.

The trial court ruled in favor of Premier, finding that the family could not pursue a negligence claim based on the concussion rules because there was no evidence that the failure to present the rules caused Sydney’s injury.

The family’s claim against Premier based on their allowing Sydney’s team to practice on an unlit field went to trial.  The evidence was disputed as to whether the lights were on or off over Field 2.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of Premier.  The family appealed.

On appeal, the family alleged that Premier violated Maryland’s general health code section on youth concussions by: (1) not making available information on concussions and other head injuries to the coach, Sydney, or her parents; (2) Sydney’s coach not reviewing the information; and (3) allowing Premier to use the facility without first providing notice of the concussion protocols.

The Court of Appeals found that, in order for Sydney and her family to succeed, they would need to show that had Sydney and/or her parents received the concussion information, Sydney would not have practiced with her team or would have altered her behavior during practice so as to avoid the injury or that Sydney’s coach’s review of the concussion information would have caused him to modify the practice so as to prevent the injury to Sydney.

The Court of Appeals found no such evidence.  For one, the concussion information was not made part of the court record, despite the trial court’s repeated requests to see the information during the various hearings.  Even still, the Court of Appeals said they would have reached the same result.  The Court of Appeals considered a hyperlink to the MSDE website, which was included in one of the family’s briefs.  The hyperlink included the required concussion information, which notably did not require coaches to structure practices to avoid concussions.  Rather, it mandated training for coaches on understanding, recognizing, and responding to concussions.

Similarly, the information Sydney and her parents were entitled to receive were primarily geared towards understanding and recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussions and ensuring proper reporting to parents, coaches, and medical personnel.  The only “preventive” measures pertained to personal protective equipment, following rules set by coaches for safety, and practicing good sportsmanship.  The Court of Appeals found that none of these measures were relevant to the prevention of Sydney’s injury.  Likewise, the Court of Appeals found no evidence that Sydney or her parents would have chosen not to allow her to participate in soccer, generally, or this practice, specifically, had they received the fact sheet about concussions.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

Note: This case involved a private soccer team in Maryland.  However, it is relevant for California private schools because under Education Code section 49475, private schools are required to provide concussion and head injury information sheets to athletes and their parents on an annual basis.

Walton v. Premier Soccer Club, Inc. (App. Mar. 1, 2024, No. 1691) 2024 Md. App. LEXIS 151.

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