NCAA Faces $50 Million Lawsuit for TBIs: College Athletes Experience Life-Threatening Side Effects from Head Trauma

by The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP

Over the last several years, sports coaches and athletes have gained an increased awareness that traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained on the field can have serious and life-threatening consequences. Sustaining a concussion does not just mean a few days of rest before heading back onto the field. In fact, multiple concussions in a short period of time can prove deadly, resulting in diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Or, as in the case of former university players, early onset of Alzheimer’s disease,  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Now, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which regulates student athletes at more than 1,200 colleges and universities across the country, may be held liable for brain injuries. According to a recent article in CBS Sports, a former University of Texas football player, 64-year-old Julius Whittier, has sued the NCAA after being diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer’s two years ago. The report indicates that Whittier is the lead plaintiff in a current class-action claim, which “could max out at $50 million in damages.”

Who are the other plaintiffs involved in the class-action lawsuit? According to the claim, the lawsuit applies to “all former NCAA football players residing in the U.S. who played from 1960-2014 who did not go on to play professional football in the NFL and who have been diagnosed with a latent brain injury or disease.” The lawsuit specifically argues that the NCAA did not do enough to protect college students from sports-related brain injuries, which the former players argue violates the NCAA’s constitutional requirement that “each member school protect the health of, and provide a safe environment for, its players.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the NCAA did not do enough to educate college football players about the short-term and long-term effects of head trauma sustained on the field. Back in August, the NCAA proposed a $75 million settlement for concussion injuries, but Whittier and other former players emphasize that the settlement would not have provided enough money to cover the care that these former players—who now suffer from the effects of serious brain injuries—require.

Data on Sports-Related Brain Injuries

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, (AANS), nearly 450,000 sports-related brain injuries occurred in 2009. That number shows a dramatic increase from previous years, in which the number of sports-related head traumas typically came in at under 100,000.

Even though the numbers of sports-related head injuries have looked shockingly high in recent years, the AANS believes that the number could actually be even higher than those reported. What is the cause of the discrepancy in reported number and actual numbers? The AANS cites two possible causes:

  • The data collected by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission—which listed the number of sports-related head injuries at almost 450,000 in 2009—excludes certain categories of potential victims. For instance, the report did not include injuries sustained in very small geographic areas of the county.
  • Many TBIs that at first glance may not appear severe, are often not treated at hospitals. Instead, head injury victims visit a physician’s office or decide to self-treat their injury. The report only included TBIs that resulted in a hospital visit.

Some of the most common sports and recreational activities that resulted in emergency room visits in 2009 included the following:

  • Cycling (85,389 injuries)
  • Football (46,948 injuries)
  • Baseball/Softball (38,394 injuries)
  • Basketball (34,692)
  • Water Sports (28,716)
  • Soccer (24,184)

If you or a loved one sustained a TBI while playing sports, you should speak to an experienced brain injury attorney to determine your rights.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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