Usually, injury settlements end current and future litigation for the parties involved. However, the recent settlement reached with the NCAA over student athlete head injuries opens the door for more lawsuits to be filed.
Our brain injury lawyers understand the $75 million agreement will allow money to be used by current and former athletes to receive medical testing and monitoring for suspected head injuries. Those who suffered head trauma as a result of participation in sports will have the opportunity to file their own individual lawsuits. Of the settlement amount, $5 million will be dedicated to head injury research.
The settlement was reached in the class action of In Re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. It also requires the NCAA to instruct schools to make changes to athletic program policies, specifically by implementing guidelines on “return-to-play” for athletes who have suffered a blow to the head.
As of February, AL.com counted the number of former college athletes suing the NCAA over the way it handled concussions at 65. The litigation followed after a similar case of 4,800 professional football players who successfully sued the National Football League on similar grounds.
Of those 65 players, one was from Alabama. It was former Alabama running back Ray Hudson, who played from 2001 to 2004. Now 34, he says he was diagnosed with two concussions but believes he suffered more. He said he was forced to drop out of school after he was plagued with headaches, memory problems, depression, and anger management issues, all of which he says were the result of head injuries sustained as a football player. He says he was directed to continue playing, even after enduring heavy and repeated blows to the head.
All but three of the athletes who filed suit against the NCAA were former football players, although the settlement targets all student athletes, including those who participated in ice hockey, soccer, basketball, wrestling, field hockey, and lacrosse.
Not everyone is pleased with the outcome, however. One plaintiff’s attorney, who was not involved in the settlement negotiation, was later quoted as saying the deal let the NCAA off the hook far too easily. He estimated the NCAA will have the leverage to settle individually-filed lawsuits for as little as a few thousand dollars each, whereas a single class action settlement could have been negotiated for as much as $2 billion.
Whether his assessment of the prospects for athletes who continue to file suit is correct will likely depend heavily on the facts of each case, as well as the experience of the legal team working for the former athlete. It’s estimated that as many as 30,000 athletes who played from 2004 to 2009 would have grounds for a claim.
The $70 million dedicated to head injury testing will be used not only to help former players but also to institute annual neurological testing of current and future student athletes. This will give physicians the ability to determine whether the effects of a concussion during any given season were particularly serious, and if so, initiate early treatment options. Head injury education courses will become mandatory for both coaches and athletes.
NCAA Settles Head-Injury Suit, Will Change Rules, July 29, 2014, By Michael Tarm, Associated Press