Meher et al v. Federation Internationale de Football Association et al – Big Changes in Youth Soccer Safety

Child sports injuries are a serious and growing problem in the Carolinas and nationwide. Safe Kids Worldwide estimates 1.35 million kids a year suffer serious sports injuries. That’s one every 25 seconds, and it only accounts for those who are treated in hospital emergency rooms. Every three minutes, a child is treated for a sports-related concussion in an emergency room. In fact, 12 percent of all ER visits involved a concussion.soccer5

It’s the head injuries in particular that plaintiffs in Meher et al v. Federation Internationale de Football Association et al sought to address. Specifically, these were a group of parents and former youth soccer players who filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in California who alleged FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization were negligent in treatment and monitoring of head injuries.

This was one of the few negligence lawsuits in which plaintiffs sought no financial damages. Rather, they wanted only rule changes. Despite this, FIFA has been on the defense side of the table in a number of lawsuits alleging head injuries, just like other professional leagues such as the NHL, NFL and NCAA. This summer, a federal judge ruled this particular case against FIFA had no standing, but the case against U.S. Soccer was allowed to proceed.

Now, U.S. Soccer has unveiled a number of initiatives that are intended to improve safety of players – youth players in particular. Those new guidelines, which will serve to resolve the pending legal action per a mutual agreement, involve barring players under the age of 10 from “heading” the ball, and limiting the number of per-practice headers players between the ages of 11 and 13 can do.

These regulations, once they go into effect, will be mandatory for all teams and academies that are branches of U.S. Soccer – and that includes Major League Soccer youth club teams. However, teams that operate under other associations won’t have to adhere to these new guidelines.

In addition to the rules barring and limiting “headers,” the organization has said it will initiate more education on head injuries for players, referees, coaches and parents. There will also be uniformity in rules regarding how to respond when a young player does suffer a concussion.

This is important for a sport that reports a substantial number of child injuries. According to Safe Kids, there are nearly 3.8 million youth soccer players between the ages of 12 and 17. In 2011, there were nearly 105,000 soccer-related injuries suffered by youth who were treated at America’s emergency rooms. Of those, 13 percent were concussions. That was a higher percentage of concussions than basketball, baseball, softball, cheerleading and volleyball.

In soccer, the practice of “heading” the ball – or moving the ball back into play with one’s head – is certainly part of the problem. One recent study published by the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics revealed that less than a third of concussions in youth soccer result from direct contact with the ball. Instead, more than 70 percent of the time, it’s contact with other players.

So while efforts like Mehr are certainly valuable – reducing soccer head injuries among children and teens is of great importance – we shouldn’t stop there if the goal is to further minimize the risk of youth head injuries.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Soccer, Resolving Lawsuit, Will Limit Headers for Youth Players, Nov. 9, 2015, by Ben Strauss, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

County of San Diego v. Super Ct. – Injury in Hazardous Recreational Activity, Dec. 11, 2015, Winston-Salem Injury Attorney Blog

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