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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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