Child Sports Injuries in Georgia – Second Impact Syndrome

Concussions are a common sports injury among children. In recent years there has been growing consensus that policies are needed for “concussion management” and “return to play” guidelines – to protect our children. In 2013 Georgia became the 44th State to enact a law that requires schools to create a policy on how to respond to head impacts during sports and other recreational activities.

The Georgia law, The Return to Play Act of 2013, mandates that all public and private schools must adopt and implement a concussion management and return to play policy. The rationale behind the law is that school officials are in the best position to prevent children and teens from returning to play after a blow to the head. Continuing to play with a concussion or symptoms of head injury leaves a child vulnerable to severe injuries like post-concussive syndrome and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or death.

Under the new law each local Board of Education and the governing board of every non-public elementary school, middle school, and high school must:

  • Provide written warnings to coaches, students and parents that educate and inform of the risks of concussion and head injury to children who participate in athletic activities (this notice must be provided prior to the start of each athletic season and all pre-season practices)
  • Require each coach to complete an annual concussion recognition course and be certified in recognition of concussions in student athletes
  • Require coaches and school officials to comply with a uniform return to play protocol in the event of an injury or suspected injury to a child

What if your child was injured and school officials failed to follow the law and even greater harm happened to your child? How can the school be held accountable?

The answer to this question is unfortunately complex. Georgia law does not treat all students equally. If your child is injured while attending public schools your rights are fewer than if the injury happens at a private school. For a full treatment of how the law works in this area, read my post on Public School Injury Law In Georgia. If you don’t have time to read the full version, the law in Georgia is basically this:

In the State of Georgia the rule is that you can not sue a governmental employee (which includes school teachers, coaches, and school administrators) unless the governmental entity that employs them has waived Sovereign Immunity.

Sovereign Immunity is a shield that stops cold most injury claims against school districts and public school teachers/coaches, etc . . . Sovereign Immunity means that you can not sue the government without it’s consent. And as you might imagine, the government is not often inclined to give that consent.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to the rule. One exception is that under Georgia law, a suit against a public officer acting in his or her official capacity will NOT be barred by official immunity if the public officer negligently performed a ministerial duty. Suit IS barred, however, if the public officer negligently performed a discretionary duty. In other words, public officials are immune from damages that result from their performance of discretionary functions (GENERALLY, there is an exception that has to do with when those functions were undertaken with malice or intent to cause injury, read my full blog post on Public School Liability in Georgia if you want to learn more about that.)

What does all this mean? A ministerial duty is one that is commonly simple, absolute, and definite, arising under conditions admitted or proved to exist, and requiring merely the execution of a specific duty. A discretionary duty is one that calls for the exercise of personal deliberation and judgment, which in turn entails examining the facts, reaching reasoned conclusions, and acting on them in a way not specifically directed.

So the question is whether the Courts will interpret the new duties created by Georgia’s Return To Play Act as ministerial (no immunity – you can sue for negligence) or discretionary (immunity – you generally can’t sue.) Over the last decade or so the Georgia Court of Appeals has shown a tendency to interpret duties as discretionary (thereby barring suit). It is unknown how the Courts will interpret this new law.

I believe the Courts should interpret the duties under the new law as ministerial. The duties concern matters that are simple, absolute and definite – a blow to the head occurs and a duty arises at that point in time to act on the duty created by this new law. No discretion is needed – the coach or school official needs to remove the child from play and not allow return to play until the appropriate health provider has examined the child and cleared them to return. Failure to follow this simple protocol would be a violation of a ministerial duty. Similarly, a school district who fails to provide the required warning notices or required training for coaches would be in violation of a ministerial duty.

That’s my take on the proper interpretation of the new law. What the Courts will do is in the future. If your child has been injured at school, please call me. Navigating these waters alone is treacherous. Public school officials are well aware of the law of sovereign immunity. Private school officials already have lawyers working to defend them. Shouldn’t you too?


Attorney Pete Pearson practices Child Injury and Wrongful Death Law in the State of Georgia. Located in the Greater Atlanta Metro Area, he is available to help families all over the State of Georgia. He can be contacted directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564 or by Email.

Homeowner’s Insurance – What If My Child Is Hurt At Another Family’s Home?

If your child sustains an injury while at another family’s house and there is a homeowner’s insurance policy in effect, your child’s injury claim will almost certainly be covered. Don’t delay in reporting the injury, however, because all policies have a provision that says if timely notice is not given to the insurance company they can deny coverage.

After making sure the injury is reported to the insurance company (preferably in writing), take time to assess what type of insurance claim will be appropriate. There are two types.

The first type of claim under homeowner’s insurance. Many homeowner’s insurance policies contain “Med Pay” or “Medical Payments” coverage. “Med Pay” is no-fault coverage, which means it is available to help compensate you for medical expenses related to your child’s injury no matter how the injury took place. In other words, there is no requirement that you show that anyone was negligent. If you can show that your child was injured on the other family’s property, you can recover under the “Med Pay” coverage.

“Med Pay” is sold in increments and a family may have $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, or more coverage in place. The way this type of coverage works is that you submit your child’s medical bills to the homeowner’s insurance company as you receive them. Some medical providers will even handle the submissions for you. Or, if you prefer, you can have the insurance company mail you (or your attorney) a check for the cost of your child’s medical treatment. I recommend the latter approach because it allows you (or your attorney) to negotiate with your medical providers. Often providers will offer a discount to settle your child’s bill if you ask. You can save money that way and use what you save to pay for your client’s future medical care or other injury related expenses.

The second type of claim under homeowner’s insurance. The second type of coverage is bodily injury liability coverage. This pays only when the owner or someone in the owner’s family is found to be at fault. You have to be able to (usually with the assistance of an attorney) prove that the owner or representative of the owner did something (or failed to do something) that constitutes negligence and that negligence led to your child’s injury.

Even if the homeowner has admitted fault, keep in mind that is is very common for stories to change after a little time goes by. Do your child a favor and document everything. If the homeowner admits fault, get that on a recording or in writing. Get them to admit the specifics of what they did wrong. This will protect you in the event they later change their story (and you would be amazed at how often stories change.)

A bodily injury liability claim allows you to recover more damages than in a “Med Pay” claim. “Med Pay” pays only for your child’s medical expenses. A liability claim pays you for medical expenses, any related lost wages, human losses (pain and suffering), and any damages that flow from your child’s injury.

One question that you may have is whether your child can be held responsible for causing their own injury? This issue arises if your child was doing something that perhaps was a little foolish at the time they were hurt. The answer is: it depends. It depends on the age of your child.

In the Georgia common law there is a legal creature known as the “tender years doctrine.” This doctrine holds that children under a certain age can not be charged with contributory negligence (fault) or assumption of the risk. The younger the child, the less likely they can be found to have contributed to their own harm.

For example, there is a case that holds that a 4 year old child is presumed incapable of negligence. But there is also a case that holds that a child that is 5 years, 10 months old does not get that same presumption. Exactly when a child becomes capable of contributory negligence is not clear in the case law. It seems safe to say that if a child is older than 6 years they might be charged with contributory negligence. But the issue is one for a jury to decide and is very fact specific.

So essentially, with very young children (4 and under) it is clear that they can’t be blamed for hurting themselves. With children older than 6, it is less clear. It will come down to what the courts have called a “subjective, individual standard of care for children.” In other words, the court or jury will have to examine the capacity of the child in question and their behavior and make a judgment call about whether they were capable of preventing the harm to themselves or if the adult in the situation should be charged with full or partial responsibility.

An example from a recent case I handled may help clarify how the doctrine of tender years works in practice.

My client, a 5 year old girl, was dropped off at the home of the Defendant. The Defendant had agreed to babysit my client.

The previous Sunday was Easter Sunday and my client’s mother had pressed out the child’s hair for the occasion. When the mother dropped her daughter off at the Defendant’s house, her hair was up in a ponytail. 

On the evening of the loss, the Defendant loosed the pony tail and let the girl’s hair out and shortly after gave her a lit candle to take into the house (the Defendant was outside talking to a friend on the phone). My client went inside the house unsupervised and while inside her hair caught on fire.

What happened next shocks the conscience. After this 5 year old child was burned, the Defendant told no one, called for no medical attention, and hid the fact from her own husband (by putting panty hose on the girl’s head to conceal the burns). The Defendant put the child to bed and kept her quiet during the night (while she fussed) by giving her Motrin.

All that night, the following morning, and throughout the next day, the Defendant again told no one and called for no medical attention. She did not inform the child’s mother. It was not until nearly 24 hours later, when the child’s mother returned, that her mother discovered the burns. Immediately she called 911 for an ambulance.

In that case, the insurance company didn’t even bring up the tender years doctrine. But, had my client been 7 or 8 or older, the insurance company might have.

One final piece of information. Because “Med Pay” claims are no-fault generally you do not need an attorney if that is the only type of claim you plan to bring. Generally the homeowner’s insurance company will pay the bills up to the limits of coverage without much of a fight. There are exceptions but generally you should be able to handle that without the expense of an attorney. If, however, you believe there was fault, it would be worth your while to consult with an attorney. Keep in mind that the attorney fee on a bodily injury liability claim is paid from the settlement, not from you or your child, and that if there is no recovery there is no attorney fee. So it is a risk free call to the attorney.

If your child has been injured by the negligence of another and you believe there may be grounds for a bodily injury liability claim, please call me. I have been representing families for over 17 years right here in Georgia and would be honored to talk with you. 


Attorney Pete Pearson practices Child Injury and Wrongful Death Law in the State of Georgia. Located in the Greater Atlanta Metro Area, he is available to help families all over the State of Georgia. He can be contacted directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564 or by Email.

Trampoline Injury Claims for Children

Trampolines were designed to be a specialized piece of training equipment for adults.

In 1945, George Nissen, a competitive gymnast, patented the modern trampoline. Nissen designed the trampoline as a training tool for acrobats and gymnasts and later promoted it for military aviator training. The recreational use of trampolines is a more recent development, driven primarily by the increased availability of cheaper trampolines sold for home use.

Even more recently, commercial trampoline parks (“jump parks”) have begun to appear around the country, including in Georgia. These parks target children with their marketing. Consider the following commercial blurb from Sky Zone Sports, which has recently opened a location in Suwanee, Georgia:

“Get ready for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park, the creator of the world’s first all-trampoline, walled playing court (U.S. Patent #5,624,122) – perfect for just about any age, shape or physical ability.” ~ from Sky Zone’s website (retrieved September 28, 2012).

How safe are trampolines truly? Are they truly “perfect for just about any age, shape or physical ability?” Not according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has repeatedly warned parents and anyone else who cares about child safety to keep kids off trampolines. According to an AAP report released this week, Emergency Departments across the country see nearly 100,000 injuries from trampolines each year. It’s not just at jump parks that kids get hurt; it’s at homes also.

The typical ways that children get hurt on trampolines include the following:

  • Too many children on the trampoline. Multiple users is a safety violation. If children are going to be allowed to use the trampoline at all, only one child should jump at a time. Of particular concern is when older children (or adults) are allowed on the trampoline along with younger children. Several studies have shown that approximately 3/4 of trampoline injuries occur when multiple people were using the trampoline. The smallest children were up to 14 times more likely to sustain injury relative to their heavier playmates. Also, heavier users create more rebound of the mat and springs and greater upward forces than smaller children can generate on their own. These forces must be absorbed by the falling body and can actually be greater than the forces a child would experience landing on solid ground!
  • Falls from the trampoline. This is an obvious one. What is not so intuitive is that the studies show that safety nets do not necessarily decrease the risk of children suffering falls.
  • Impact with the trampoline frame or springs. Again, surprisingly, the studies do NOT show that padding on the frames or springs necessarily decrease the risk of a child being injured.
  • Colliding with other children in mid air or on the way up or down.
  • Somersaults/flips. Neck and head injuries can easily result. Kill joy as it may sound, somersaults and flips are a bad idea for children on trampolines.

Typical injuries children sustain include:

  • Ankle injuries are the most common form of injury children sustain while jumping on a trampoline. This can range from a minor sprain up to a surgical fracture injury.
  • Head and neck injuries. These are the most serious child injuries typically seen resulting from trampoline accidents. Cervical spine injuries can be caused by falls off the trampoline but also commonly occur on the trampoline mat when failed somersaults or flips cause hyperflexion or hyperextension of the cervical spine. These injuries tend to be the most catastrophic of all trampoline injuries suffered.

Atypical (unusual) injuries children can sustain on trampolines include:

  • Trampoline-related fractures of the proximal tibia (upper part of the shin bone) have been observed in children 6 years and younger. These injuries occurred when young children were sharing the trampoline with larger individuals.
  • Manubriosternal Dislocations/Sternal Injuries (injuries involving the child’s breastbone). Sternal injuries have traditionally been described as a result of major trauma. These occur after thoracic hyperflexion injuries on the trampoline. They typically heal uneventfully; however, surgical stabilization may be necessary if pain persists.
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection (a flap like tear of the inner lining of vertebral artery, which is located in the neck and is the artery that supplies blood to the brain). The AAP report discussed above mentions several cases of vertebral artery dissection presenting 12 to 24 hours after a neck injury on a trampoline. Vertebral artery dissections are the result of abrupt cervical hyperextension and rotation. These are often devastating injuries and may produce lasting complications.
  • Atlanto-axial Subluxation (an injury where the vertebrae in the neck spine become misaligned as a result of trauma and may compress the spinal cord, leading to damage to the spinal cord and adjacent nerves. There have been 2 reported cases of trampoline-related atlanto-axial subluxation in children.

One important legal consideration with child trampoline injuries is that some homeowner’s insurance companies exclude trampoline injuries from coverage.

This is because trampolines are viewed as an “attractive nuisance” (something on a property that may entice children into harm) and therefore trampoline related claims are sometimes not covered by a standard insurance contract. Homeowners who own trampolines may have to obtain a “rider”  (a rider is a schedule or piece of paper attached to an insurance policy that provides the policyholder extra protection beyond the provisions contained in a standard insurance agreement) that expressly provides coverage for trampoline related claims.

Contacting an attorney to investigate the availability of liability insurance that could compensate you and your child for medical bills and other items of damages is advisable.

Another legal consideration if your child has been injured on a trampoline is the possibility of a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the trampoline. It has been observed that there has been a decrease in the quality of recreational trampoline equipment over the past several decades. Consider this: according to the International Trampoline Industry Association, trampolines sold in 1989 had an expected life of 10 years while the expected life of trampolines sold in 2004 was only 5 years. We are seeing a degradation in the quality of the trampolines available for the recreational market.

A legal claim against a homeowner, commercial trampoline park (“jump park”), or trampoline manufacturer may have to overcome the legal defense known as “assumption of the risk.” This defense essentially blames the victim for engaging in an activity that they knew or should have known was dangerous. The efficacy of this defense is close to nil, however, with younger children, due to another legal doctrine, known as the “tender years doctrine.” This doctrine holds that children under a certain age (probably 7) can not be charged with contributory negligence (fault) or assumption of the risk.

If your child has been hurt on a trampoline and you believe there was negligence, I would be happy to help you evaluate your claim.


Attorney Pete Pearson practices personal injury law in Atlanta, Georgia and has a special interest in helping families of injured children. He is a father to six and lives with his wife and children in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564. 

Second Impact Syndrome – Coach & School Official Liability

Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), also known as Second Impact Concussion, refers to the brain injury that can result when an athlete is allowed to return to his/her sport too soon after getting hit in the head, and then suffers a second impact/concussion.

The medical literature suggest that younger, less developed, brains are at greater risk for Second Impact Syndrome. There have been numerous reports of young players who have suffered back-to-back head injuries and died from increased intra-cranial pressure.

Coaches and school officials (school districts/college/university officials) should have a certified athletic trainer on the field to assess a child in the event of a blow to the head. A player who suffers even a mild concussion should be benched. Most guidelines say that player should remain out of their sport for seven days after all their symptoms disappear.

Trainers and coaches have a duty to protect children from SIS by recognizing that any complaints of headache or dizziness after a head impact could potentially be a concussion and leaves the child vulnerable to another injury. Sometimes coaches and trainers let children return to the field too early and this negligence has devastating consequences.

If your child has been injured in this manner, the school district (or owner of your child’s private school or college) may be liable if it failed to use reasonable policies and procedures for head injury management, did not provide its trainers/coaches with proper training, or did not require a “return to play” note from a doctor following a concussion.

This video explains more about the dangers of SIS and why “caution should be the name of the game”: