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More Than A Headache — What You Need to Know About The Head Injury Law in Washington State

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I have been coaching youth sports for 10 years and seen my fair share of injuries with players.  There is one injury, however, that should be highlighted to any and all that deal with youth sports in Washington State. 

From a liability perspective, coaches in Washington State have a duty of care with respect to concussions that is greater than that of other injuries.  The Lystedt Law (House Bill 1824) was enacted in 2009 and was designed to provide greater protection for student athletes in the event of a traumatic brain injury or concussion.   Simply put, it is the most comprehensive return-to-play law in our country.

For those with children in public schools and public school sports, this is probably nothing new as various concussion awareness campaigns have been ongoing since 2009.  However, for independent schools and private, not-for-profit athletic associations, this should be a topic that is continually revisited due to the large number of volunteers that these organizations rely upon. 

Commercial liability insurance can be written to protect the employees, directors, officers and volunteers of these organizations in the event of a claim arising out of head injuries or other sporting accidents.

We tell clients that the best insurance is simply using common sense and practicing good risk management.  In this case, simply following these steps as outlined in the law itself can prevent a claim against you.  More importantly, it can protect a student athlete from unnecessary risk and potential harm.

Some highlights of the law as outlined on the Traumatic Brain Injury website:

  •         Youth athletes who are suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury be removed from play. “When in doubt, sit them out”
  •         School districts to work with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to develop information and policies on educating coaches, youth athletes and parents about the nature and risk of concussion, including the dangers of returning to practice or competition after a concussion or head injury.
  •         All student athletes and their parents/guardians sign an information sheet about concussion and head injury prior to the youth athlete’s initiating practice at the start of each season.
  •         Youth athletes who have been removed from play receive written medical clearance prior to returning to play from a licensed health-care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussion.
  •         Private, nonprofit youth sports associations wanting to use publicly owned playfields comply with this law.

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