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More Than A Bell Rung!

How about some motivational thoughts for Our Wednesday Blog?

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I guess it’s better than someone just simply daring us with some attitude…right?

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So let’s get down to business. This blog is about football and brain injury. I immediately get serious!

Jeff Bezos once worked at a hedge fund and was growing increasingly frustrated because he was unable to match the returns of another investor, Bernie Madoff. (Of course we all now know that Madoff’s yearly investment returns were all fake)

Bezos reportedly confided in Ted Leonsis (owner of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals) that his frustration caused him to quit his hedge fund job at D.E. Shaw. He then started a little company called Amazon. The cause and effect.

I compare a brain injury to cause and effect. You can tell if a person has a broken arm because you can physically see their cast. There is no cast for the brain. So, it’s not unusual to miss a brain injury. It’s why they are called  the “walking wounded”. The cause is usually related to trauma but the effect is usually not known until it’s too late.

Years ago, the defense called their head trauma expert to the witness stand in one of our brain injury cases. We had already put our case on and had several treating doctors testify that our client had a brain injury. Now, this defense witness had been identified as a doctor who was going to disagree with all the treating doctors.

He admitted that our client had hit her head. He even admitted that she might have had a concussion. But he went on to say that it was just like a football player who just “had their bell rung, but that didn’t mean that they had to come out of the game”. In essence, his testimony was that our client’s brain injury was no big deal.

The NFL has announced that they are considering a radical rule change. Here is an article explaining that the NFL is poised to eliminate kickoffs. Why? According to a recent study (Here) 16% of football injuries occur during the kickoff, and those injuries have a high probability of concussion related.

It probably will not happen this year. But, it would not surprise me to see no kickoff next year, with the ball starting at the 25-year-line to start the game. I suspect they are still working out the issue of onside kicks because that adds another dimension to the end of the game… and trying to catch up.

All I know, fortunately juries would no longer put up with a hired defense expert saying such nonsense as though a head injury is no big deal when you are wearing a helmet. That’s because the NFL and its former players are putting head injuries in the headlines. Plus, no one is wearing a helmet while they drive. So these injuries are possibly even worse.

And for pic o’ day, I completely agree!

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A New Helmet of Technology

While watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night, the announcers told us that one player was being helped to the sidelines and then to the locker room because of “concussion-like symptoms”. Then, they showed the replay of a helmet-to-helmet hit that showed the players head being struck.

Currently the NFL has a concussion spotter and  doctors and neuro-consultants on the sideline who ask initial basic questions of a player suspected of a concussion such as: What quarter is it? Who scored last? Do you have a headache, Dizziness or NauseaWhat month is it? What day of the week is it?

The doctor on the sideline might ask certain word recall that could include the player repeating back the following words:  apple, elbow, carpet, saddle and bubble.

These are just some of the  NFL protocols in dealing with a player suspected of a concussion. Conversely, in my law practice I have seen just the opposite. Emergency technicians ask my client at the scene whether they were knocked unconscious. That is the extent of the screening. Relying on the worst historian of the possible medical condition… the person who is dealing with the symptoms.

In football, there’s some hope that there is new technology on the horizon to help identify concussions during the game. According to Fortune Magazine, Helmet-manufacture Riddell has produced a helmet called a SpeedFlex helmet, which relies on an InSite Impact Response System

It’s being tested at some Division-1 programs like Arkansas. Among other features, the helmet disperses energy at the point of impact to minimize damage and can send a signal through state-of-the-art  software, to personnel on the sideline regarding certain hits and impacts.  if an impact falls beyond a certain safe range that has been predetermined, the helmet alerts coaches wirelessly through the helmet’s software.

Attention to this problem has brought research and progress; and more importantly awareness to the issue of concussions. As a lawyer, I am glad that football has now helped to bring some education to juries regarding symptoms of concussion and the severity of a concussion that might occur in car crashes.

In the past, I had to listen to one defense doctor describe a concussion as no big deal because it was just getting your bell rung. Thankfully, I don’t think that such testimony will even be considered by a jury.

And for pic o’ day, I am posting a cartoon. The opposite of bulls running must be bulls telling jokes!

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NFL Helmets and Concussions

     I was in the middle of a brain injury case. It was a jury trial in South Carolina. The defense had their defense witness on the stand, testifying about my client’s injuries and resulting problems.

     This was the kind of doctor that had an answer for everything. He bills for medical reviews, based on how many records he reviews. That’s not that unusual, until you ask him to describe the billing practice. “I put the medical records in a pile; put a ruler next to the pile and bill by the inch”. The jury leaned forward a bit there.

     His basis for testimony that my client couldn’t have any long term effects from the crash, was compared to  his knowledge of high school football. He looked at the jury and smirked, “you know how it works out there; a football player might ‘have his bell rung’ but that doesn’t mean that he can’t play next week”.

     That testimony was back in 2004. Since that time, the public awareness of brain injuries has become more prevalent. Almost everyone has seen a news story on it and most football fans can probably  even discuss a football player that still suffers from a head injury during their career.  

     If you get the new PlayStation Madden 2011 football game, it even has players suffering concussions. Then, they are unable to play the following week. It’s make believe but it’s based on our growing knowledge of head injuries.

     Sports Illustrated is also reporting on a Virginia Tech study of NFL football helmets. According to the study just released by a professor of biomedical engineering at the college, Stefan Duma; 40% of NFL players last year, wore a helmet model that got the second lowest rating for reducing the risk of concussions.

     More attention is being paid to prevention. More players are now aware of recovery issues and long term effects. No longer is it considered a badge of honor to dust yourself off and run back in the game. Then later, brag about the fact that you played and can’t even remember really being out there.

     In jury trials, juries are now in possession of more common knowledge about the long term effects of brain injury. No longer can a defense lawyer simply pay someone to come in and testify. Well, they still might pay them to testify but it doesn’t mean that what they say carries a lot weight anymore.

     I remember hearing the illustration about the Hubble Telescope.  When it first was carried into orbit in 1990, it captured clusters and galaxies that we never knew existed. Just because we had never seen all that amazing astronomy did not mean that it was not there. We just did not have the technology to see and understand.

     In brain injuries, there is more research that helps us understand the problems and solutions of head injuries and concussions. Even better equipment for NFL players is being explored. It’s understanding and then finding solutions. Meanwhile, these defense doctors will have to come up with different testimony, if they want to keep getting paid by the defense.  Maybe the next defense will be,  “you see it but it’s not really there”.

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