CTE Crisis: Are You at Risk?

Greg Ploetz, former University of Texas football player, passed away in 2015. After his death, it was determined, by autopsy, that he had previously developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy. His wife, Debra Hardin-Ploetz, sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); on the third day of the trial, the NCAA settled for an undisclosed amount.

This was recently printed in the Los Angeles Times:
“Former NHL players Daniel Carcillo and Nick Boynton have filed a lawsuit against the NHL alleging the league withheld information on the risks of incurring chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, a degenerative brain disease that has been found in people who have experienced repeated brain trauma. Both Boynton and Carcillo were known for fighting during their careers, and both have said the effects of head injuries they sustained have continued to plague them and adversely affect their lives.”
Both of these cases referenced litigation regarding chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Currently, this progressive degenerative brain disease can only be definitively diagnosed postmortem. Although research is ongoing, presently clinicians and researchers are unable to diagnose CTE with radiological imaging, MRI, or CT scans. In 2016, a reporter for the New York Daily News reported that Boston University neurology professor Robert Stern said he “believes his team will develop methods to identify the disease in living patients before Super Bowl 60 in 2026.”

The movie Concussion, released in 2015, details the pioneer efforts of Dr. Bennett Omalu to uncover the connection between irrevocable brain damage and the repeated head trauma suffered by National Football League players. Media headlines have exacerbated the fear of some parents regarding contact sports, with families less willing to enroll young athletes in many extracurricular athletic programs.

Concussions have both long and short-term complications. They can cause sensory, cognitive, and emotional changes that may develop into more severe problems. Medical experts tell us that anyone who is exposed to repeated head trauma is potentially susceptible for developing a protein in the brain called Tau. This protein is insidious, and over time, can invade all of the brain tissue and disable neuropathways.

Symptoms often do not present for years following the trauma. The first symptoms most patients notice are headaches, confusion, and difficulty concentrating, followed by any number of warning signs, including:

  • Slower speech patterns
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Dementia
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • A difficulty with long-range planning
  • Emotional instability
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

CTE can become apparent in a variety of circumstances. Boxers suffer from frequent punches to the head, football players’ helmets are frequently knocked, and ice hockey players have collisions at almost every game. Other potentially dangerous sporting activities include:

  1. Rugby
  2. Cheerleading
  3. Lacrosse
  4. Boxing
  5. Skateboarding
  6. Skiing
  7. Motocross
There is still much to be discovered about this condition. Based on the limited research cases available, CTE can manifest itself in several ways. One case scenario typically appears in a person’s thirties or forties; the victim develops a rapid onset of symptoms like irrational behavior, irritability, problems sleeping, depression, and often suicidal ideations. Autopsy results reveal that even small CTE lesions in the brain can result in significant changes in behavior.

The second scenario is not as erratic, and shares many of the characteristics of dementia. This becomes evident when a person enters into their fifties and sixties, and can often be misdiagnosed as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Scientific research suggests genetics may be contributory in making some people more susceptible to concussions. Diagnostic testing, still in its infancy stages of development, may be able to predict predisposition to this potentially life-threatening condition. However, we do not know how long it will be before this blood test is available.

What we do know is that there is a clear connection between traumatic brain injury and CTE. Statistics tell us that athletes who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 have significantly worse cognitive problems than other players. Patrick Mark Kinzle Risha was born on December 15, 1981. Patrick’s father, a high-school football coach, instilled a love for the sport in Patrick from an early age. He began playing on an organized team when he was 10. He was an All-Conference running back in high school, and later played for Dartmouth College. Patrick passed away on September 17, 2014, at age 32, by suicide. His autopsy report confirmed widespread CTE throughout his brain.

Contact sports are a leading cause of concussion injuries; however, only one in six concussions are diagnosed. Repeated brain injuries, trauma, or concussions can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. School officials and organizers of community athletic teams are obligated to ensure the safety of their players. Players, regardless of age, who have sustained a head injury should be removed from the game. The Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation was established “to provide parents of school-age children (who have very susceptible brains) with information about the dangers of sports which involve head trauma.

CTE is preventable. As awareness of CTE continues to spread, numerous sufferers may be realizing for the first time that there is a clear cause of their symptoms: if you, or a loved one, think you may be a victim of CTE, the law is on your side. For example, if a child’s athletic coach did not provide sufficient safety equipment, or if sports organizers allowed a child to continue participation after receiving a blow to the head, you may be entitled to compensation due to another party’s negligence.

The safety and well-being of student-athletes is paramount. We need to educate parents, coaches, and athletic directors about the dangers of CTE. More importantly, we must ensure that parties who willingly place young athletes at the risk of serious conditions such as CTE without proper care are held accountable.

If you have concerns or questions about the effects of a traumatic brain injury, contact our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or write to us online for a free consultation.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900


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