In March 2018, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario enacted Rowan’s Law (Concussion Safety), a new law aimed at protecting amateur athletes from the dangers of concussions. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by the movement of the brain inside the skull, typically as the result of a bump or blow to the head or a blow to the body that jolts the head.
Rowan’s Law requires amateur sport organizations to take certain affirmative steps to ensure that their athletes understand the risks of concussions and are protected against them.
But young athletes are not the only Ontarians who need to know what concussions are, how to recognize them, and how to recover from one. Although sports are one common source of concussions, concussions can also result from a fight, fall, or automobile accident. Recognizing a concussion and seeking treatment immediately is critical to preventing further damage to the brain.
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Ontario Concussion Safety Basics
Concussions result from the movement of the brain inside the skull. That movement can cause a change in the chemicals in and around the brain or directly damage brain cells. More serious concussions may involve bleeding or swelling in the brain. Although the effect of concussions is usually temporary—lasting a matter of days or weeks—repeated concussions can cause serious permanent brain damage.
When a concussion is caused by the wrongful act of another person, such as in an assault or a car accident for which the other driver was at fault, Ontario law enables the injured person to seek damages for his or her injury. The legal recovery for a concussion can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other types of damages.
A concussion may not be visible using ordinary medical imaging technology, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. However, concussions can cause a number of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms, such as:
- Loss of consciousness, regardless how brief;
- Persistent headaches;
- Difficulty waking up or ongoing sleepiness;
- Slurred speech;
- Weakness, numbness, or lack of coordination;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Sensitivity to light or noise; and
- Confusion or forgetfulness.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has published concussion guidelines that list many other common symptoms of a concussion.
How to Prevent Concussions
Unfortunately, there is no perfect method for preventing concussions. However, there are steps that you can take to help reduce the risk of concussion even in circumstances where such injuries are common, such as a car accident or while playing contact sports. Those steps include:
- While participating in sports, wear an appropriate helmet. This includes wearing a helmet while bicycling, tobogganing, or engaged in similar outdoor activities.
- Ensure that all occupants of a motor vehicle (including pregnant women and children) are properly buckled in.
- Help prevent falls by seniors by keeping rooms free of clutter and installing grab bars in the bathroom and railing in staircases.
- Use childproof window locks, gates, and similar safety devices to protect young children from falls.
Recovering After a Concussion
You should consult your doctor as soon as you suspect that you or your loved one has sustained a concussion. Concussions vary in severity, and a doctor can prescribe the best regimen for you to get back to health.
In general, your doctor will recommend that you get lots of rest and avoid strenuous activity. For example, if your concussion resulted from playing hockey, you should stop playing until you’re better. If you have headaches, you should ask your doctor which pain-relief medicines you can safely use, as some increase the risk of bleeding, which can be dangerous if you’ve had a concussion.
Amateur Sports and Rowan’s Law
With Rowan’s Law, the Legislative Assembly has tried to incorporate concussion best practices into the legal requirements for amateur sports organizations. The provisions of the law were recommended by an expert advisory commission established after the death of Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old Ottawan who suffered multiple concussions while playing high school rugby.
Among other things, Rowan’s Law:
- Requires amateur sport organizations to establish a concussion code of conduct;
- Requires athletes, coaches, officials, and other participants to regularly review concussion awareness resources prescribed by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and a sport organization’s concussion code of conduct before they are allowed to participate in the organization’s activities;
- Requires sport organizations to establish removal-from-sport and return-to-sport protocols for their athletes that satisfy certain requirements; and
- Permits the Minister of Education and Training to establish regulations for school sports consistent with the other provisions of Rowan’s Law.
Concussions are often referred to as “mild” traumatic brain injuries, but that description is misleading. All traumatic brain injuries pose serious risks to the injured person and should be taken seriously. Rowan’s Law shows that the Legislative Assembly is doing just that, but more than just young athletes need to be educated about Ontario concussion safety.
When a concussion is caused by another person’s unlawful act, part of recovery may be seeking damages in court or by settlement. Doing so effectively requires working with a knowledgeable personal-injury lawyer. The Ontario lawyers of Preszler Law Firm stand ready to help you and your loved ones with all your personal-injury needs.