September 2014 Bar Bulletin
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September 2014 Bar Bulletin

Gray Anatomy:

Youth Sports and Concussions - A Review of 'Return to Play' Legislation

By Brian Brunkow


The year 1776 was probably the last time a group of decision-makers gathered together and agreed on much of anything. But as of July 2013, 47 states and the District of Columbia had passed "Return to Play" legislation, which sets guidelines for youth athletes returning to athletic competition after suffering apparent head injuries.

And today? All 50 states have passed legislation to protect youth athletes from further brain injuries after having suffered an initial concussion (Mississippi was the last state to pass "Return to Play" legislation in January).1

This achievement is worth revisiting as Washington led the nation in 2009 by passing the first-in-the-nation "Return to Play" legislation under House Bill 1824 (HB 1824), also known as the "Zackery Lystedt Law."2 This achievement is more notable because King County attorney Richard Adler of Adler Giersch, P.S., along with attorney Michael Nelson, represented the Lystedt family in their civil case that brought about the introduction of HB 1824.

Briefly, HB 1824 added, in part, the following protections under RCW 28A.600.190:

(3) A youth athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury in a practice or game shall be removed from competition at that time;

(4) A youth athlete who has been removed from play may not Return to Play until the athlete is evaluated by a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussion and receives written clearance to play from that health care provider....

The purpose of the "Zackery Lystedt Law" is to "prevent preventable brain injuries in all youth sports," Adler says. "We know that we may not be able to prevent the initial concussion. But what we can do is prevent further avoidable bad outcomes by keeping kids off the field until cleared by a medical professional to return to play. It's about awareness and saving kids' brains and their lives."

Now this might come as a shock, but state government is not exactly known for swift, decisive, collaborative action on any issue. So, it is impressive that starting with Washington's HB 1824 in 2009, in less than five years all 50 states passed a version of "Return to Play."

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