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Personal Injury

Uniform concussion law needed across Canada

Canada would benefit from a standard approach to concussion law across jurisdictions, Toronto personal injury lawyer Jennifer Hoffman tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Ontario’s provincial legislature recently passed Rowan’s Law (Concussion Safety), designed to educate coaches and protect athletes from the dangers of head injuries.

And Hoffman, a partner with the Toronto firm Wolfe Lawyers, says she hopes other Canadian jurisdictions will swiftly follow suit with their own versions of the legislation.

“I’m surprised we don’t already have a more uniform law on concussions across all provinces,” she says. “The U.S. has a more cohesive law and protocol for dealing with these injuries, but in Canada, the approach is a bit patchy.”  

Ontario’s new law, named after a 17-year-old who died as a result of injuries suffered playing rugby, passed with support from all parties at Queen’s Park and establishes standard protocols governing a player's removal from and return to the sport after a suspected concussion.  

Teachers and coaches must also review online information to help them spot and manage concussions in players, according to the legislation, which also includes a code of conduct designed to limit behaviour that causes concussions while playing sports.

Many of the recommendations from a coroner’s inquest into the boy’s 2013 death ended up in Rowan’s Law.

"With this legislation now in place, amateur athletes in Ontario — and the coaches and families that support them — will have the safe sport system that they want and deserve. Through increasing awareness, and changing conversations on the field, at school and in our homes, Ontario is creating a world-class amateur sport system where athletes and Ontarians can participate safely,'' Daiene Vernile, Ontario's minister of tourism, culture and sport, said in a statement.

Hoffman says awareness of the dangers of concussions has been transformed in recent years by publicity around the experience of professional athletes — including hockey star Sidney Crosby, who missed virtually an entire season as a result of his head injury — and the growing scandal over autopsies that indicated professional football players suffered brain damage during their careers.  

“It’s essentially an invisible injury but there is more discussion than ever before about it,” Hoffman says.

In her own practice, she deals with many clients who suffer concussions as a result of direct or indirect blows that caused the brain to shake violently inside the skull during a motor vehicle accident. Hoffman and her team work with medical experts to ensure her clients receive the appropriate treatment early on, which increases their likelihood of recovery.

“It’s important that concussions are both diagnosed effectively and treated properly,” Hoffman adds, noting that they are sometimes missed in assessments because they are at the minor end of the brain injury scale.

“The symptoms are not always as evident early on, she says.

However, Hoffman says she’s encouraged by developments in diagnostic technology out of the U.S., including the first blood test recently approved by the country’s Food and Drug Administration.

“That’s going to be really helpful,” she says. “I see the impact these injuries can have on people’s lives. Typically, they can lead to major emotional, behavioural and cognitive changes. Plus, there is the risk of death for someone who suffers multiple concussions, so it’s very important to be able to diagnose and manage them effectively.”

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