Ontario has become a national leader in concussion management by recently passing concussion safety legislation to protect amateur athletes and educate coaches regarding the dangers of head injuries.

The bill is named Rowan’s Law (Concussion Safety), 2018 in memory of Rowan Stringer (“Rowan”), a 17-year-old rugby player who died from injuries while playing rugby. The legislation was created following a coroner’s inquest into Rowan’s death in 2013.

WHAT HAPPENED TO ROWAN?

Rowan played rugby in the Ottawa community of Barrhaven. On May 8, 2013, Rowan suffered her third concussion of the week when her head and neck struck the ground as she played in a high school rugby match. She died four days later in hospital from second-impact syndrome.

Rowan was the captain of her school rugby team and felt a responsibility to always take the field, even when she wasn’t feeling well. She suffered two concussions during the course of two games in the five days before her devastating final brain injury. No adults recognized that Rowan was suffering and she did not reveal her symptoms to her coaches or parents. The inquest into Rowan’s death revealed, through text messages, that she had suffered previous concussions and had even googled the term “concussion” in an effort to diagnose the cause of her symptoms.

On May 8, 2013, during Rowan’s last rugby game she was upended and thrown head first to the ground. She lost and never regained consciousness after that fatal blow.

An inquest into Rowan’s death confirmed that the cause of death was second-impact syndrome.

WHAT IS SECOND-IMPACT SYNDROME?

Concussions occur in large numbers in Canada and the recovery time varies for each individual. Some may go undiagnosed because they cannot be detected on x-rays, MRIs or CT scans.

Second-impact syndrome is a rare condition that may occur when the brain is still healing from a previous concussion. This syndrome causes dangerous brain swelling and bleeding that can cause death or permanent disability. It may be preventable by removing concussed athletes from play until their symptoms have passed and the player is cleared by a medical professional.

There have been fewer than 50 confirmed and published cases of second-impact syndrome in the world. These occurrences involved, in most cases, young athletes (teenagers or those in their early 20s). The majority of these cases resulted in death.

Symptoms of second-impact syndrome include headache, neck pain, nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, sleep pattern changes, dizziness, memory problems, concentration problems, noise sensitivity, fatigue, or personality changes.

Second-impact syndrome can be preventable. The first step in prevention is for players to report their injuries and symptoms. Players must speak up and inform school officials, teachers, coaches, referees, and their parents that they are not feeling well or suspect they may be seriously injured. Once a diagnosis of a concussion is confirmed, the appropriate next step is a graduated return to play and no return to full contact play until all symptoms have cleared. A recently concussed brain is more vulnerable to subsequent injury if a second blow occurs prior to full recovery from the first injury.

HOW DOES ROWAN’S LAW PROTECT ATHLETES?

Ontario is the first province in Canada to pass concussion safety legislation. The Ontario government worked closely with medical experts, athletes, coaches, and sports leaders to develop this unique and significant legislation.

This legislation will be helpful in spreading awareness and recognizing and managing concussions. It will also convey the message regarding concussions to all non-school based sports leagues and venues, as well as all school-based sports in Ontario, both private and public, including universities.

The new law requires amateur sports organizations to fulfill the following obligations:

  • Must establish a concussion code of conduct to set out rules of behaviour in order to minimize concussions while playing sports;
  • Must establish a “removal-from-sport” protocol for athletes who are suspected of having sustained a concussion (this includes implementing a specific process for the removal of the athlete and a designated person responsible to ensure that the athlete does not return to training, practice or competition except in accordance with the “return-to-sport” protocol”); and
  • Must establish a “return-to-sport” protocol for players who have or are suspected of having sustained a concussion (this includes establishing a process to implement the return of an athlete and designate a person to ensure that a player does not return until permitted to do so).

Rowan’s Law also amends the Education Act to require school boards to comply with policies and guidelines respecting concussions involving their pupils.

If you have suffered from personal injuries as a result of a sports accident or other incident, or have any questions regarding a potential claim, please contact the knowledgeable personal injury lawyers at Jasmine Daya & Co. online or by calling our office at 416-967-9100. Our experience handling personal injury claims can give you an advantage in your fight for compensation. We offer free consultations to new clients.