By Abigail Norton & Michael A. Kruse
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY – Athletic associations facing concussion lawsuits may receive help from Utah lawmakers. A bill currently awaiting consideration from the Utah Senate would give immunity to amateur sports organizations that meet a specified set of criteria.
“The parents are the reason I drafted this,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.
Under HB383, sports organizations will not be liable for concussions as long they put a policy in place and take steps to train and enforce the policy. The bill already passed out of the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.
In recent years, sports organizations have faced lawsuits from individuals who associate health problems later in life with childhood concussions. While the bill would provide some protections for these organizations, the bill would still allow parents or athletes to sue in cases of negligence.
Bart Thompson , assistant director of the Utah High School Activities Association, said the bill was designed to protect organization from lawsuits that could put of them out of business. Lawsuits are expensive whether you win or lose, but the biggest frustration has been parents who “physician [shop]” for a doctor who will accelerate clearance of their child for game play, he said.
Some of the senators on the committee expressed concern over the language in the bill. Under the wording, all an organization would have to do is download a policy over the Internet and have immunity from lawsuits, said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George.
On a similar note, Sen. Mark Madsen, R- Saratoga Springs, questioned why the association objected to changing the language.
As currently constructed, Madsen said, “You’re trying to put two events together, make profit off them and take none of the responsibility.” Madsen also pointed out that if the organizations were left totally immune from lawsuits there would be no relief for an injured child since volunteer coaches do not make a lot of money.
If the bill required enforcement, however, it would necessitate that an organization have an official at the games to make sure teams and clubs follow the rules, Thompson said. Currently, state law requires both that youth sports programs have a concussion policy, and that any player with a concussion wait at least seven days to resume participation.
A substitute bill proposed by Sen. Todd Weiler, R- Woods Cross, would mandate that in addition to having the policy, an athletic organizations must provide training to agents the organizations in order to claim immunity.
The substitute bill was backed by the Utah Association for Justice, an organization of personal injury lawyers. Rep. Ray said he was fine with the substitute. The bill will move to the full senate for a vote.