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A federal appeals court has reinstated a putative class action negligence lawsuit filed against USA Water Polo Inc. in a case where a teen goalie was severely injured after she was returned to play in a youth water polo tournament despite showing concussion symptoms.
The litigation filed by the mother of the injured girl charged the Huntington Beach, California association with failing to introduce a concussion program for its young players, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Alice Mayall et al. v. USA Water Polo Inc.
“H.C.,” who was a high-achieving honors student, was injured while a goalie during a game organized and managed by the water polo association, according to the ruling.
She suffered a concussion when she was hit hard in the face by a shot. Although she was dazed, her coach returned her to the game, during which she took more shots to the head, exacerbating her initial injury, according to the ruling.
The girl subsequently experienced excessive sleeping, dizziness, intolerance to movement, extreme sensitivity to light, headaches, decreased appetite and nausea, and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
Her academic ability was “severely degraded” and she was unable to attend public school because of her persistent post-concussion syndrome, according to the curling.
H.C.’s mother filed suit on charges including gross negligence in U.S. District Court in Pasadena, California, which dismissed the case. The case was unanimously reinstated by a three-judge appeals court panel in Wednesday’s ruling.
USA Water Polo had developed a detailed concussion policy for athletic trainers for its national team in 2011, “but did not require, or even recommend, that its Concussion Policy be followed by other water polo games under its governance,” despite repeated requests it do so and numerous emails reporting incidents in which young athletes suffered concussions, said the ruling.
The complaint’s allegations “taken as true, demonstrate 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,” the ruling said.
“USA Water Polo’s inaction in the face of substantial evidence of risk of harm constitutes ‘an extreme departure for the ordinary standard of conduct,’ and amounts to gross negligence under California law,” said the ruling, in citing the lower court’s ruling.
The case was remanded for further proceedings.
Earlier this month, the National Hockey League announced a tentative $18.9 million settlement with 318 retired players who sued the league, accusing it of failing to protect them from head injuries or warning them of the risks involved with playing.
Increased awareness about the long-term effects of concussions could lead some insurers to exclude head trauma from policies for professional athletes, experts say.