Super Bowl LVII, featuring the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs, is just around the corner. As the NFL’s big day approaches, nobody wants to think about the increasingly dark cloud hanging over the league. But concussions are becoming commonplace, and every player who has sustained one or more of these traumatic brain injuries while playing America’s game must live with the often-permanent physical, mental, and emotional consequences.
A concussion is caused by a blow to or violent shaking of the head. Most concussions do not lead to unconsciousness and have temporary, mild side effects such as headaches and difficulty concentrating, memory, and balance. However, repeated blows to the head, even if they don’t result in a concussion, can lead to a much more serious condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE, characterized by symptoms like depression, suicidal thoughts, aggression, and mood swings, worsens over time and leads to dementia.
The NFL has a concussion protocol to keep players who have sustained too many head injuries off the field until they can heal. NFL teams hire licensed neurologists, who must sign off on the player before they can return to play. These are referred to as “independent neurologists,” but they are hired and paid for by the team. Many people question whether these physicians, who are under pressure from the team to “fix” players and get them back out there as soon as possible, can make such quick and complex decisions about the athletes’ health.
Physicians, whether they treat pro athletes or anyone else, sometimes make a decision on their patient’s care that leads to a negative outcome. Doctors are human and make honest mistakes. But if that doctor acts negligently and it leads to a patient’s injury, the patient could have a medical malpractice case.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
When a physician or other healthcare professional takes action – or fails to take action – and that decision leads to harm, they could be violating the standard of care that they are legally obligated to meet. This is called medical malpractice.
Studies have found that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer. Anyone who makes a medical decision can be liable for medical malpractice. Nurses, pharmacists, dental assistants, anesthesiologists, drug manufacturers, and more can be held legally responsible for actions that cause harm to a patient.
To qualify for malpractice, your case must meet the following criteria:
- There was an existing doctor-patient relationship; the doctor owed you a reasonable duty of care
- The doctor failed to meet the duty of care that another colleague would have met satisfactorily
- This failure caused your injury
- You were physically and financially harmed by this failure
There are several types of medical malpractice, categorized by the type of error. These include failure to diagnose/misdiagnosis, surgical/medication errors, emergency room errors, healthcare providers being under the influence, and dangerous medical devices.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can determine if your case meets the benchmark for legal damages. Successful medical malpractice claimants can receive financial compensation for the lost and future enjoyment of life, lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills, and more.
Medical Malpractice Cases in the NFL
Professional football is fascinating to many of us because of how hard the game is played. Young athletes at the peak of their abilities knowingly abuse their bodies and give their all for the chance at glory. They embrace the risk of serious, career-ending or even life-threatening injuries inherent in the job they’ve chosen.
But the rising number of concussions in the NFL, especially those sustained by players who return to play shortly after, is cause for concern. Players suffered 149 concussions over 271 games during the 2022 NFL season, representing a staggering 18% increase from 2021.
Early in the 2022 season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained a concussion after slamming his head into the ground during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. After getting up, he began stumbling around with his hands raised in the air and his fingers splayed open, a symptom of brain injury. Disturbingly, Tagavailoa had suffered a first concussion just four days earlier during a Buffalo Bills game. Despite two concussions in a very short time, the quarterback continued playing and sustained a third concussion on Christmas Day during a Green Bay Packers game.
Tagovailoa’s stumbling behavior after the hit at the Bengals game triggered the NFL’s concussion protocol, and he was removed from play pending evaluation. Despite his neurological symptoms, his stumbling was said to be a result of a back and ankle injury sustained during the hit, and he cleared the concussion protocol.
Experts believe that the Dolphins’ coaching and medical staff made a grievous error in allowing Tagovailoa to return to play. But because the quarterback has not yet suffered a loss of earning capacity from his injuries – for example, if his multiple concussions were to demote him down to a second-string position – he could not successfully pursue a malpractice claim until that scenario came to pass.
Some other examples of medical malpractice in pro football:
- Former New York Giants running back Michael Cox won $28.5 million in September 2022 in a lawsuit over a failed ankle surgery that ended his career.
- Former L.A. Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor is suing Chargers’ team doctor David Gazzaniga for at least $5 million after a quick pre-game injection meant to manage rib pain gave him a punctured lung instead; the trial is set for June 2023. Taylor was replaced as the Chargers’ starting QB, causing him a loss of income.
- In 2014, former Baltimore Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle won $650,000 in a malpractice suit against spinal surgeon Craig Brigham, whose improper post-surgical care was found to have ended Rolle’s career.
Do I Need a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury due to possible medical malpractice, your case deserves the same careful attention as anyone else’s, including professional athletes.
Meeting the burden of proof in a medical malpractice case can be complicated. Finding the evidence required to prove that your injury resulted from negligence could be time-consuming, and it’s hard to know what you’ll need to pursue a case. That’s why a medical malpractice lawyer is essential. They can gather medical records, obtain witness statements, handle all the paperwork and insurance claims, hire experts to strengthen your case, and more.
It’s possible that more than one person – or entity – had a hand in the medical negligence you experienced. For example, a malpractice lawsuit can include the physician who committed the error and the hospital that approved the action. What’s more, most doctors and healthcare institutions have expensive malpractice insurance companies and legal counsel to guard them against such claims. Without a medical malpractice attorney to guide you through the claims process, you’ll likely have trouble receiving the compensation you deserve.
Paulson & Nace has been protecting the rights of medical malpractice victims in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and West Virginia for decades. Please call us as soon as possible for a free case evaluation at 202-463-1999, or fill out our online contact form to get started.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.
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