On October 2006, a 13-year-old middle school football player named Zackery Lystedt collapsed from a traumatic brain injury when he was allowed back into a game just 15 minutes after suffering a concussion. Zackery spent the next nine months in a coma, and now still sits in a wheelchair. He has regained his sight and ability to speak, but still struggles to regain strength in his left leg and foot.

In May 2009, Washington State enacted the Zackery Lystedt law, becoming the first state to enact a comprehensive youth sports concussion safety law.

Key Provisions of the Zackery Lystedt Law

The key provisions of the law are:

  • Guidelines/education: school districts board of directors and state interscholastic activities associations must develop concussion guidelines and educational programs.
  • Mandatory consent: youth athletes and a parent and/or guardian must sign and return a concussion and head injury information sheet on a yearly basis before the athlete’s first practice or before being allowed to compete.
  • Immediate removal if concussion is suspected: youth athletes suspected of having sustained a concussion in a practice or game must be immediately removed from competition.
  • Written clearance before return to play: youth athletes who have been taken out of a game because of a suspected concussion are not allowed to return to play until after:
    • Being evaluated by a health care provider with specific training in the evaluation and management of concussions
    • Receiving written clearance to return to play from that health care provider
  • Legal immunity: a school district complying with the law is immune from liability for injury or death of an athlete participating in a private, non-profit youth sports program due to action or inaction of persons employed by or under contract with the sports program if:
    • The action or inaction occurs on school property
    • The nonprofit provides proof of insurance
    • The nonprofit provides a statement of compliance with the policies for management of concussion and head injury in youth sports

Interpretation of the Law Varies State to State

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As of 2013, all states except Mississippi have enacted youth sports concussion safety laws modeled after Washington State’s groundbreaking Zackery Lystedt Law.

Each state has its own version of the law:

California: the legislature is considering an amendment that would extend coverage of the law to charter schools and private schools.

Illinois: a bill limiting full-contact practices during the season to once a week has been introduced in the state legislature.

Indiana: a bill proposing to expand coverage of the Lystedt law to all youth sports was sent for further study by the legislature.

New Hampshire: on April 19, 2013, a bill was passed expanding coverage to intramural sports and from grades 9 to 12 to grades 4 through 12; the bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Oregon: a bill expanding coverage by requiring parents and student-athletes aged 12 and older to sign a concussion information sheet as a condition of participation in school athletics was passed by the Senate on April 8, 2013, and is currently being considered in the Oregon House.

Rhode Island: an amendment was proposed to the state’s law that would broaden the scope of those medical professionals who can diagnose and manage a student-athlete’s concussion; require all student-athletes to undergo baseline neurocognitive tests prior to the start of every sport season; and require coaches/volunteers to complete an annual refresher course..

Texas: a bill requiring baseline neurocognitive testing and limiting full-contact practices during the season to one a week was recently introduced in the state legislature.

Vermont: an amendment close to passage would require school athletic coaches and referees to receive training on how to prevent concussions; prohibit a coach or an AT from allowing an athlete to continue playing if the trainer knows or should know that the athlete has sustained a concussion; require that a health care provider be consulted if a coach and an AT do not agree on whether an athlete has sustained a concussion; and require the home team to ensure that a licensed AT or health care provider is present at any athletic event involving a contact sport.

Virginia: proposed amendments to the state’s law would broaden the scope to cover all youth sports leagues, not just school sports.