Releases and Assumption of Risk Forms in Concussion Management
United Educators’ (UE’s) recent, informal poll of higher education members suggests 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.
Using a well-written assumption of risk form or a release can highlight potential dangers of athletic participation, particularly in contact sports, and deter lawsuits.
Use Releases or Assumption of Risk Forms?
Consult with your legal counsel about whether an assumption of risk form or a release from liability is preferable. Your counsel can advise on 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 doesn’t ask students to give up their right to sue. Rather, it asks the student-athlete to acknowledge the specific risks inherent in each athletic activity and voluntarily assume these risks.
Require student-athletes to sign a new form every year. Retain signed forms consistent with your document and medical record retention policies.
Include This in Releases or Assumption of Risk Forms
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 head injuries or concussions.
- The person has received information about signs and symptoms of a concussion.
- Helmets, face shields, mouth guards, and other protective equipment don’t eliminate the risk of concussions.
- Purposeful head contact in any sport is prohibited.
- There is a duty to immediately notify medical staff if a teammate experiences signs and symptoms of a concussion or suffers a suspected concussion.
- There is a need to immediately self-report to medical staff if the student-athlete experiences signs and symptoms of a concussion or suffers a suspected concussion.
- Athletes won’t return to practices or games if experiencing concussion-like symptoms.
- A repeat concussion is more likely to occur when an athlete returns to play before symptoms resolve.
- Your institution has the authority to retire an athlete from sports if it determines the risks of concussive injury present a serious threat to the student-athlete’s safety and well-being.
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About the Author
Joe Vossen, JD
CPCU, Resolutions Counsel
Joe is a member of UE’s Resolutions department, where he handles bodily injury and education liability claims. He is a former member of UE’s Risk Research team and, prior to that, practiced insurance defense law. His areas of expertise include LGBTQ protections, use of force by campus police, athletic injuries, and study abroad.