Oregon State Bar Bulletin — OCTOBER 2010
Profiles in the Law
Keeping His Head in the Game:
David Kracke Has a Passion for Shedding Light on Concussions
By Cliff Collins

David R. Kracke

No one is surprised that football players experience the highest number of head injuries among school-age athletes. But Portland personal injury lawyer David R. Kracke points out a surprising fact: The second-highest prevalence of sports-related concussions is in girls’ soccer.

With the urging of Kracke and others, the 2009 Legislature passed a landmark bill, dubbed “Max’s Law,” mandating concussion-recognition training for high school coaches in all sports. The objective of the law is to teach adults how to prevent brain injury in the youth in their charge and also to emphasize that “this is an issue that is not specific to football,” says Kracke (pronounced CRACK-ee).

A line used by sportscasters for years — “He was slightly shaken up on that play” — implies that athletes merely can dust themselves off before returning to action. But taking head injuries lightly is becoming a thing of the past, thanks in part to Oregon’s leadership in passing Max’s Law, which was named for a Waldport high school football player who suffered severe head injury from a repeat concussion.

Max Conradt was an exceptional quarterback aiming to go to an Ivy League school when he had a concussion playing football several years ago. After experiencing a second concussion in a game the following week, he lay unconscious and in a coma for four months. Today, Conradt is in a long-term care facility and struggles with performing the most basic physical tasks.

A concussion is an injury to the brain from an impact to the head. A mild concussion might result in being slightly dazed or experiencing a brief loss of consciousness. A severe concussion involves a longer loss of consciousness, as well as a longer recovery time. Conradt suffers from what is known as Second-Impact Syndrome, a rare, often fatal condition in which a second concussion occurs before a first concussion has properly healed.

After Conradt’s father, Ralph, contacted the Brain Injury Association of Oregon, Kracke, who already was a board member of the organization, became involved in trying to remedy the lack of awareness that led to Conradt’s injury.

As Kracke had done earlier, he took his case to the Legislature. Previously, Kracke successfully had worked for two legislative sessions to get a 2005 bill passed that prevented insurers from denying coverage for injuries suffered to the policyholder under the uninsured motorist statute. He had represented a woman who was seriously injured during a carjacking of her vehicle. Owing to a quirk in the law at the time, she was not able to access her policy’s uninsured motorist benefits.

Now Kracke went the same route, testifying before both houses of the Legislature and working with lawmakers, physicians and others behind the scenes to pass legislation requiring that coaches be taught about the symptoms and potential seriousness of concussions and repeated concussions.

The statute also stipulates that players sustaining head injuries must be taken out of play and not allowed to return without a medical release. Coaches are taught what symptoms to look for and to advise that the player seek medical attention when a concussion is suspected. If a medical professional diagnoses a concussion, the athlete needs to sit out until he or she has been symptom-free for at least one week. Coaches also are advised, “When in doubt, sit them out.”

A provision Kracke wanted requiring monitoring of the age and condition of helmets got dropped as a political compromise, but the education and hold-out provisions remained intact. The bill passed both houses unanimously, and the governor signed it into law last year.

Oregon and Washington passed similar bills in the same month, becoming the first and second states to take such an action, which is being emulated in 22 other states so far, according to Sherry Stock, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Oregon. Stock says Kracke has donated numerous hours of work over the past six years on behalf of the organization — serving on the board, writing a quarterly legal column in its newsletter, lobbying and testifying before the Legislature, and offering advice and help to people who come to the association.

“Dave is a nonprofit executive director’s dream: a passionate, articulate person who cannot say no to our cause,” she says.

Early Political Involvement
Kracke, who grew up in Southern California, got involved in politics beginning at the age of 11 or 12, following his mother, who was active in that realm. His work on the campaign of an assemblyman sparked Kracke’s interest. By the time he was in college, he was running political science lunches and serving in the student senate.

Kracke, whose father is a noted artist and designer, chose to attend college far from home, at the University of Utah. Kracke’s explanation for going there was that he possessed “a real independent streak,” not to mention that the snow skiing in that area is superb. He worked for a time as accounts receivables manager for a medium-size law firm in Salt Lake City and also gained organizational skills as the grass-roots politics coordinator for a U.S. congressional race. His get-out-the-votes success in that campaign led to his recruitment by a group in Los Angeles that works on political campaigns.

After spending a year there, he determined that he needed that “big-picture” perspective on life. At the age of 24, he took a year off to travel around the world: Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Nepal, Burma, Pakistan, Italy, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands and Canada. Before he left on those adventures, he had made the decision to go to law school upon his return.

“The trip was a chance to see the world before I entered into my professional career.” While in Thailand, he applied to Lewis & Clark Law School. After his second year at Lewis & Clark, Kracke spent a summer semester at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, living at the YMCA and studying international environmental law.

Back at Lewis & Clark, he practiced litigation and participated in moot court competitions, receiving recognition for best oral argument and best brief. He also served as editor in chief of the journal International Legal Perspectives. A highlight of law school was meeting his wife, Leslie, who also now is an attorney.

Immediately after graduation and passing the bar, Kracke worked for Portland lawyer Craig A. Nichols. The two took on what Kracke describes as “a seminal case,” Park v. Hoffard, which established a new law for landlord liability for tenants’ dogs who injure a third party off the property. Kracke moved on after seven months. “I thought at the time that I wanted to try a medium-size firm and wanted that kind of environment.” He joined Lindstedt, Buono & Gordon and did collector-debtor work for about two years. He then went into sole practice, building a business law and personal injury practice, and establishing a relationship with the Vietnamese Business Association in Portland. Borrowing from what he calls his “cultural awareness” from his time in Asia, Kracke gave free seminars for the local Vietnamese community.

In 1997, he went back to work with Nichols & Associates, where he became a partner and has remained ever since. The firm handles a lot of business law and personal injury work, and Kracke has come to specialize in traumatic brain injury cases.

As he sees it, the changes needed to prevent further tragedies such as Conradt’s involve two complicated aspects. First, the pressure on young athletes today is greater than ever. Injured athletes usually feel impelled by everyone involved, often even their parents, to get back into action as soon as possible. “The team needs the player, there are league standings to consider, not to mention the college scouts who might be at any given game,” observes Kracke.

Second, the seriousness of concussions and Second-Impact Syndrome are well-documented in the medical literature but largely unknown to the lay public. Therefore, he says, education is a key.

“The authority figures — that’s who we’re trying to reach. Kids listen to them.”

Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to theBulletin.

© 2010 Cliff Collins

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