Tide of college football concussion lawsuits begins
As many as 50 class-action lawsuits contesting how the NCAA, major college football conferences or individual schools handled concussions will be filed in the coming months by former players seeking damages for lingering brain injuries and ailments.
The first batch of six lawsuits was filed Tuesday and Chicago-based attorney Jay Edelson said the next wave will likely be filed within the next two weeks.
"The reason that we're bringing so many of them instead of one giant one is because the NCAA successfully argued to the court that we shouldn't be allowed to bring just one big case," Edelson said Wednesday. "Because of that we have to file suit on a per school basis."
The first six lawsuits were filed by players who played for Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Utah and Penn State. The former football players claim problems ranging from loss of memory and cognitive function to dementia.
The lawsuits come as a settlement in another concussion case against the NCAA is awaiting approval by a federal judge.
Former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington in 2011 sued the NCAA over its handling of concussions and it resulted in a proposed settlement that provided no damages to be paid to players for injuries.
The proposal is still awaiting final approval from a federal judge in Illinois. It calls for the NCAA to create a $70 million fund for testing and monitoring former athletes for brain trauma and another $5 million for concussion research.
Arrington opposed the settlement, though other plaintiffs signed off, and Edelson has fought against it.
"These cases appear to be yet another attempt by Mr. Edelson to interfere with efforts to move forward a settlement in the Arrington case. The lawsuits reflect copycat activity and just because they keep repeating the same arguments does not make them true," said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer.
In the Vanderbilt and Penn State cases, the schools are named directly named in the lawsuits. In the other cases, state laws protect the universities from being sued. The conferences named in the lawsuits are the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the Western Athletic Conference, where Utah competed while plaintiff and former defensive lineman Richard Seals played for the Utes.
"In terms of naming the schools individually, whether that's an easier path or not remains to be seen," Edelson said. "We think that when we go before a jury the stories are going to be most impactful when we talk about in context of the school. The NCAA has a lot of liability, too, but the schools were the ones that had the most direct relationship with the student-athletes."
The Penn State case was brought by three former players: Robert Samuels (1988-89), James Boyd (1997-2001) and Eric Ravotti (1990-94), but Boyd and Ravotti have since said they want their names to be removed from the lawsuits because they were misled about the nature of the cases by attorneys.
"Because of attorney-client privilege we can't go through the detail of all the communication that our team had with these two individuals but of course we have no interest in having someone lead such an important fight if their heart isn't in it," Edelson said. "That's not good for us it's not good for the class. It's not good for them."
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