F.B.I. Investigating Purported Failure to Test More than 200,000 Used Football Helmets At a Time When More College Players are Sustaining Concussions

The F.B.I. is investigating how it was that more than 200,000 amateur football players in the United States wore used helmets this fall that were returned to the field without proper testing.

The investigation concerns the purported failure of Circle System Inc., of Easton, Pa., in an apparent effort to save on labor and insurance costs, to perform a formal drop-testing procedure in which helmets are subjected to strong forces in different locations on about 2 percent of the helmets they handle as part of a safety protocol mandated by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (Nocsae).

The helmets in question were used by football players ranging from 8-year-olds to Division I collegians. Helmets that crack or otherwise fail this test are supposed to be destroyed because they could leave the player susceptible to a fractured skull or brain hemorrhage. Although about 5 to 10 youngsters a year sustain such injuries, helmets have been considered successful in minimizing incidents in part because of the Nocsae test protocol.

Circle System is the second-largest reconditioning company among about 30 companies in the United States that refurbish a combined 1.6 million used helmets a year. A spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission confirmed that that agency, while also assisting law enforcement officials, was conducting its own investigation into whether players who wore Circle System helmets were in undue danger. Parents of players are particularly outraged that they were not made aware of this potential problem, believing that their implicit trust in the safety of the equipment that their children were given was violated.

Circle System has remained operational during the federal investigation, and it is starting to receive helmets used in the 2007 season from high schools this month. Although helmets are not tested for the lower forces that cause less serious injuries like concussions, there is a growing trend of college football players sustaining concussions during games.

The controversial question that then arises is determining when the injured player should return to the field. This question is problematic inasmuch as there are no rules governing colleges as to how concussions should be treated. This question must be analyzed aware of the possibility that a player put back in the game prematurely can sustain additional serious and perhaps permanent injuries, including death.

A parent can feel powerless and may feel compelled to put their child’s destiny in the hands of the school’s medical staff, despite their instincts to the contrary. To test whether a player is still suffering effects from the concussion, a ten minute “Standardized Assessment of Concussion Test” can be given to evaluate his short term memory and cognitive awareness and an examination can be performed to check for any physical symptoms of a concussion. The decision of whether and when to return to playing is supposed to be made by the school’s physicians and not the coaches, but the actually line is perhaps more blurry.

It is also dubious whether the concussion protocols in place are in fact good indicators of when it is safe for a player to return to the football field. In reaction to the ample debate about the dangers of concussions, new rules for handling concussions have been developed by the National Football League.

In addition, there has been an attempt to raise awareness about the dangers of concussions at the high school level, as players at this age are more prone to post concussion syndrome and the like. Similar to the problems of concussions suffered by male football players, girls are increasingly suffering from this injury as a result of playing high school soccer.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving dangerous and defective products . For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. If you or someone close to you has been injured or killed by a product that was not properly manufactured, designed or labeled, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas.

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