Athletic Trainer Risk Management

January 17, 2012

The Ball is In Your Court

Katharine M. Nohr, JD
Nohr Sports Risk Management, LLC

On August 12, 2011, a Federal Court in Alabama issued a decision in a case in which a former football player at Auburn University sued a former athletic trainer at Auburn for failing to supervise his rehabilitation properly. See Ramsey v. Gamber, Slip Copy, 2011 WL 3568911 (2011). Plaintiff Ramsey had been injured while doing weight training at the University. His athletic trainer thereafter collaborated with doctors to design a rehabilitation plan. Ramsey alleged that Gamber “improperly ordered him to perform weighted exercise before it was safe for him to do so, in violation of doctors’ instructions.” In the Court’s decision, it sympathized with the Plaintiff’s “distress over the injury that cut short his athletic career” and noted that it was “deeply regrettable that Auburn University terminated his football scholarship because of an injury he had little ability to prevent.” The Court went on to conclude that Ramsey’s case was properly dismissed as he was not able to prove that Defendant’s misconduct caused his injury.

In a case that did not turn out so well for the Defendant which was decided by the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, a college football player brought a negligence action against an athletic training service, alleging that the company was negligent in causing his back surgery. See Howard v. Missouri Bone and Joint Center, Inc., 615 F.3d 991(C.A.8 2010). The facts of the case were as follows: Plaintiff was a talented running back on the football team at Greenville College in Illinois. Following an ankle injury, Plaintiff sought treatment with a certified athletic trainer at Missouri Bone and Joint Center. In the course of doing squat lifts, Plaintiff felt a pop and a sharp pain in his lower back, of which he notified his trainer. The trainer told him, “no pain, no gain” and insisted that Plaintiff “push through it”. Plaintiff was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back, which required surgical repair. In this case, the Court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the causation element of the negligence claim and to show that the athletic trainer breached the standard of care for athletic trainers.

Given the fact that many Sport Clubs programs now use Athletic Trainers, these cases should serve as a reminder that injured athletes rehabilitation should be considered in risk management planning. The following questions should be addressed:

  • Are trainers that have been hired to work with athletes properly educated and up to date with required certifications?
  • Have trainers been instructed to follow the athletes’ doctors’ orders?
  • Are trainers listening to the athletes’ complaints of pain and discomfort and adjusting exercises in response?
  • Is rehabilitative equipment in good repair?
  • Is rehabilitation done gradually, allowing sufficient time for the athletes’ injuries to heal before resuming play?
  • Are trainers and athletes unduly pressured by coaches and/or other personnel to return the athlete to play before he or she is ready?

Athletic trainers are certainly a great asset to Varsity and Sport Clubs programs and should continue to be used to facilitate the prevention and rehabilitation of players’ injuries.

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