A 16-year-old football player sustained a concussion during a game in 2009 and subsequently was “cleared” to return to play football by his primary care physician and an athletic trainer. He died three weeks later following a second football-related head injury. The family sued, and after four years of litigation, a lawsuit against the physician, trainer and school district was settled for $2.8 million.

As this case illustrates, the issue of “medical clearance” is not just a hot topic for NFL players, but it also holds significant medical-legal importance for the pediatrician. We probably will never know whether the medical care in this case met generally accepted practice standards, and from a liability standpoint, it may not have mattered much. Rather, in such cases, confusion and disagreement about the meaning of medical clearance may be the impetus for lawsuits.

The recent proliferation of state concussion laws has increased the frequency...

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