Ninth Circuit of Appeals Opinion Secures Major Win for Athletes in USA Water Polo Concussions Class Action

Attorneys call court’s opinion “milestone victory in establishing a duty to protect athletes from concussions”­

LOS ANGELES – Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a major victory for athletes in a class-action lawsuit against USA Water Polo in an opinion establishing a duty for sports governing bodies to protect athletes from concussions, according to Hagens Berman.

The opinion served as a win on all of the athletes’ claims and also reinstated an individual claim for gross negligence against USA Water Polo, the governing body for the sport of water polo in the United States, brought by Hagens Berman’s minor client. The minor was returned to play as a goalie in a water polo tournament after being hit in the face by the ball and while manifesting concussion symptoms, received additional hits to the head, and as a result she suffered severely debilitating post-concussion syndrome.

The class action was originally filed in 2015 and alleges the entity has neglected to enact concussion and head injury safety measures.

“We are exceedingly pleased with the court’s opinion in this case and see this as a milestone victory in establishing a duty to protect athletes from concussions,” said Steve Berman, managing partner and cofounder of Hagens Berman. “In no uncertain terms, this is a ruling that could have life-changing impacts for those facing lifelong repercussions of traumatic brain injuries and concussions.”

Lawsuits brought by Hagens Berman have also reformed concussion policy in the realms of youth soccer in the US and in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“The panel held that USA Water Polo increased the risk of secondary concussions to players who improperly returned to pay[sic], a risk that USA Water Polo could eliminate through the implementation of concussion-management protocols already used by its national team,” the opinion states. “The panel held that plaintiff’s allegations, taken as true, demonstrated that USA Water Polo was well-aware of the severe risk of repeat concussions and of the need to implement a policy to remove players from play after suffering a head injury, and its inaction amounted to gross negligence under California law.”

Water polo is a rough and physical game, tracing its origins to an aquatic form of rugby, and is extremely demanding on both the body and mind. The direct contact of the players and high velocity with which the ball travels often carries sufficient force to fracture or cause severe facial or head injuries. Younger players are typically not provided professional medical supervision, either during practices or at matches. About half of all high schools have access to an athletic trainer, but very few have an athletic trainer present on the sidelines or on call to help identify concussions during play, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint, filed Feb. 3, 2014 in the U.S. District for the Central District of California states that USA Water Polo has the power to enact and enforce policies and rules that would prevent or minimize injuries. This case arises from the failure of USA Water Polo to take steps to recognize, manage and appropriately treat head injuries and concussions. USA Water Polo’s failure to implement even a scant amount of concussion management care for its participants represents an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care.

Hagens Berman's complaint seeks to represent a proposed class of all current or former water polo players who, from 2013 to the present, competed for a team governed by USA Water Polo and seeks injunctive relief requiring (1) the enactment and enforcement of proper concussion-management practices and return-to-play guidelines; and (2) proper substitution rules that allow for medical evaluation. The suit also seeks equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring for the purpose of diagnosis of long-term injury and disease resulting from concussions as a result of USA Water Polo’s negligence and concealment of information.

Find out more about the class-action lawsuit against USA Water Polo.

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