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    April 2015

    Releases and Assumption of Risk Forms in Concussion Management

    close up of waiver

    A recent, informal poll of UE higher education members suggests that many institutions overlook a critical tool for managing the risks of intercollegiate athletic concussions or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI): a signed agreement acknowledging the danger of  brain injuries and, where appropriate, releasing the athlete’s right to sue. A well-written assumption of risk form or a release can highlight the potential dangers of athletic participation, particularly in contact sports, and deter lawsuits.


    Release or Assumption of Risk?

    Consult with your legal counsel about whether an assumption of risk form or a release from liability is preferable. Your counsel can advise on the potential differences in the laws where your institution operates and athletics competitions occur. Enforceability of releases in sports and recreational activities varies among jurisdictions.

    • A release from liability or waiver asks athletes to waive their right to sue. This language should be conspicuous; use capital letters, underlining, and bold font. Good releases are written in plain language, not legalese. See Checklist: Drafting Effective Releases for sample language.
    • An assumption of risk form is similar to a release but does not ask students to give up their right to sue. Rather, it simply asks the student athlete to acknowledge the specific risks inherent in each athletic activity and voluntarily assume these risks.

    Institutions should require student athletes to sign a new form every year and retain signed forms consistent with their document and medical record retention policies.


    What to Include in Your Release or Assumption of Risk

    The release or assumption of risk for intercollegiate athletes should acknowledge:

    • A concussion is a potentially serious head injury that can result in brain injury or death
    • Participation in intercollegiate athletics may result in a head injury or a concussion
    • Receipt of information about the signs and symptoms of a concussion
    • Helmets, face shields, mouth guards, and other protective equipment do not eliminate the risk of concussions
    • Purposeful head contact in any sport is prohibited
    • The duty to immediately notify medical staff if a teammate experiences signs and symptoms of a concussion or suffers a suspected concussion
    • The duty to immediately self-report to medical staff if the student athlete experiences signs and symptoms of a concussion or suffers a suspected concussion
    • Athletes will not return to practices or games if experiencing concussion-like symptoms
    • A repeat concussion is more likely when an athlete returns to play before symptoms resolve
    • The institution has the authority to permanently retire an athlete from sports if it determines the risks of concussive injury present a serious threat to his or her safety and well-being

    Resources

    Checklist for Creating an Athletics Concussion Management Plan
    Hamilton College: Athletics Release and Concussion Statement

    By Joe Vossen, JD, associate risk management counsel 


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