As the National Football League (NFL) finally has come to take seriously the problem of concussion, litigation by many former players will focus on the question whether the league acted unreasonably in not taking action sooner.
In reviewing the response of NFL to concussion, one can easily think that the league was too slow to worry about the medical consequences of head trauma. Despite concerns being raised for many years about the risk to player health, it took until December 2009 for the NFL to advise its teams that players should not return to play or practice on the same day that they suffer a concussion.
But the NFL was not alone in viewing concussion as a relatively mild problem. Physicians also did not worry very much about the medical consequences of concussions. For decades, neurologic experts disagreed as to whether concussions could cause permanent injury, with many attributing patient symptoms to psychological issues or to the incentives created by compensation programs for people with disabling conditions.
While the NFL may have responded slowly to problems from concussion, the extent to which its response was unreasonable is unclear. If many medical experts did not worry about concussions, it is difficult to fault the NFL for not worrying either. Still, one can question the NFL’s failure to adopt concussion guidelines in the late 1990’s when they were being issued by medical experts.
For more detail on these questions, see a forthcoming article that I've co-authored.
[cross-posted at HealthLawProfs]