Former football player sues CFL over concussion suffered in game

Wide receiver says latest safety technology not made available to him

Arland Bruce III, former British Columbia Lions receiver, is suing the Canadian Football League (CFL) for not doing its due diligence after he suffered a concussion.

Filed in mid-July at the B.C. Supreme Court, Bruce’s statement of claim alleges the CFL, B.C. Lions and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon (all of whom are named as defendants) did not do their part in treating or recognizing his head injury following a 2012 game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

According to his counsel, Robyn Wishart at Slater Vecchio LLP in Vancouver, after Bruce was cleared to play another game about seven weeks after the initial injury, he was still suffering the effects of the concussion, which was made worse by his premature return to the field.

Bruce is seeking general, punitive and aggravated damages for lost wages and medical bills, both past and future — but a specific dollar amount has yet to be made.

"The pleadings allege that the defendants knew more about the link between multiple concussions and degenerative brain disease than what they told the CFL players," Wishart explained. "The pleadings also allege that the defendants published and publicized a research paper that mislead and misinformed CFL players about the link between multiple concussions and degenerative brain disease."

In particular, the statement of claim points to helmet technology that, in the plaintiff’s opinion, could have prevented or stunted the magnitude of head trauma.

The CFL was aware, or should have been aware, of equipment such as Head Impact Telemetry System, or HITS helmets, which allows for the monitoring of the number and severity of impacts during a game, according to the claim. The inner crown is ringed with sensors to measure the force of any impact, and only the Calgary Stampeders have used such helmets — something they started doing in 2008. Therefore, Bruce argues that the safest technology was not made available to him.

Symptoms of concussions can include dizziness, headaches, confusion, light and noise sensitivity and memory loss. Typically, the CFL’s rule of thumb is for teams to wait a minimum of seven days to ensure a player is symptom-free before they are cleared to return to the field.

The league has, in recent years, put more focus on player safety and intensified its efforts to treat concussions in particular.

"The CFL takes player health and safety very seriously, and have consistently taken steps to prevent, assess and properly treat concussions, through our rules, player education and discipline and medical protocols and procedures," said Jamie Dykstra, a CFL spokesperson, adding that because this particular case is currently in the hands of the league’s legal counsel, he is unable to comment further.

The case has significant implications for the Canadian league, as Bruce’s suit represents the first time a player has taken action against his league.

NFL ruling

South of the border, however, a federal judge this summer approved compensation claims for concussion-related injuries for thousands of ex-National Football League players. The landmark ruling awarded compensation for the more than 4,500 retired players part of the class-action, who have suffered from dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other neurological problems as a result of head injuries on the field.

Initially, the settlement included $675 million for players with neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing and $10 million for medical research and education, as well as an additional $112 million for players’ legal counsel. In the end, the overall cap for damage claims was eliminated, but a payout formula for individuals was established that takes into account age and illness.

Back in Canada, the B.C. Lions lawsuit could help to establish better safety regulations and improve equipment for current and future players as well as draw the line in times of doubt, Wishart said.

"What we hope will come out of this lawsuit is a concussion protocol that focuses not just on returning to play, but, one that tells players, parents and coaches when it is time for a child to walk away from the game," she said.

Next, the CFL, B.C. Lions and Mark Cohon are expected to formally respond to the civil claim before heading to court.

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