Former UC Berkeley football player sues university for alleged concussion-related medical malpractice

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Rachael Garner/File

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A former UC Berkeley football player has sued the University of California over alleged medical malpractice surrounding the prevention and treatment of concussions.

Bernard Hicks played for the Golden Bears from 2004 to 2008 and suffered from multiple concussions during games and practices, according to the lawsuit filed Aug. 3 against the Regents of the University of California. The suit claims that the university failed to take reasonable measures to prevent head injuries.

According to Hicks’ attorney, Matthew Whibley, the university did not inform players of the long-term neurological diseases associated with concussions and subconcussive injuries to the head.

“The university is the players’ caretaker,” he said. “We think it would be fair for them to at least inform the players what they’re getting themselves into.”

Although Cal Athletics could not directly comment on Hicks’ case, it released a statement saying that it bases its care on the “best and most up-to-date clinical guidelines” and that “the medical care we provide our student-athletes meets or exceeds the standards in collegiate and national sports medicine.”

Since leaving the football team, Hicks has sustained “permanent and debilitating” neurological injuries that have caused depression, suicidal shots, dizziness, memory loss, and blurred and double vision, according to the lawsuit.

A May 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a significant correlation between the number of years an athlete plays football and smaller hippocampal volumes and slower reaction times among collegiate football athletes.

Defendants in the case include Hicks’ then-head coach Jeff Tedford, team physician Cindy Chang and head athletic trainer Ryan Cobb. The complaint says that had Hicks been informed of the numerous neurological diseases associated with his injuries, he would have refrained from playing or rested longer.

Whibley said that although the dangers of concussions are starting to become public knowledge, players are “less likely to believe those third-party statements than if they heard it from their own team doctors and coaches.” If a concussion is suspected, players are removed from practice or competition and cannot return before a medical evaluation. The plan gives the team physician final clearance for a player’s return to the field after an incident.

Cal Sports Medicine’s current concussion management plan specifies protocol for coaches and health-care providers in the event of a concussion. According to the concussion management plan, all student-athletes are provided with written education material on concussions annually and must provide a signed acknowledgment of understanding its content.

Hicks’ attorneys, however, alleged that his coaches and trainers neglected to warn the players of the dangers of concussions “in hopes to get them to continue to play.”

The lawsuit is still in its early stages, and Whibley says his team has not yet spoken with Cal Athletics.

Contact Ariel Hayat at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ArielHayat.