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NCAA Faces Further Legal Trouble

By: Colette Phelps

August has not only brought the start of the long awaited college football season for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), but also the start of further legal trouble. On August 31st 2016, seven new complaints were filed in Federal Court against the NCAA, several of its conferences, and several universities, all brought by former student athletes.[1] Each of the complaints alleged that the defendants were negligent in the manner in which they addressed and handled concussions sustained by the student athletes.[2] These lawsuits are just the latest in a string of complaints that have been filed against the NCAA pertaining to concussions sustained by athletes while participating in collegiate athletics.

The first concussion case against the NCAA was filed in 2011 by a former Eastern Illinois University football player, Adrian Arrington.[3]  It was closely followed by several similar complaints, filed in various District Courts against the NCAA by student athletes.[4] Due to the similar nature of the complaints, the cases were consolidated into a multi-district litigation.[5] The Honorable Judge John Z. Lee, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, was given the responsibility to oversee the multi-district litigation.[6] A preliminary settlement was reached and approved by Judge Lee in July of 2016.[7] The multifaceted $75 million agreement took more than a year to reach and required compromise from both sides.[8] The settlement has two main functions. The first requires the NCAA to provide $70 million to create a Medical Monitoring Fund and Medical Monitoring Program.[9]  The objective of the fund and the program is monitor the health and to provide treatment if necessary, to all NCAA student athletes  who played a sport during the time the NCAA failed to “meet the best practice standards” for addressing concussions and are at risk for developing symptoms related to both sub-concussive and concussive hits in the future.[10] The number of individuals that could benefit from this is extremely high, with some reports placing the number in the tens of thousands.[11] The second function of the settlement a requirement that the NCAA provide $5 million to fund concussion research during the first ten years of the fifty year Medical Monitoring Program.[12] Although the majority of the Plaintiffs in this settlement agreed to the terms and conditions, some did object. The court appointed Anthony Nichols, a former San Diego State football player, to be the “Interim Lead Objector”.[13]

The new complaints filed against the NCAA, the conferences, and the universities this summer are separate from the class-action that reached a preliminary settlement in July.[14] The Plaintiffs in the new cases allege that their complaints are dissimilar because of the damages and remedies that they seek.[15]  Representatives of the NCAA argue that the latest cases filed against them are “mere copycats” of the previous cases,  because they use  virtually “identical language” and have the same representation.[16] It is unclear what the future holds for these latest lawsuits. However, what is clear is that the next few months will not only be stressful for college football fans hoping to see their teams win the big games, but also for the parties involved.

 

[1] Kurt Orzeck, NCAA Faces 7 New Concussion Suits By Student-Athletes, Law360 (Aug. 31, 2016), http://www.law360.com/articles/835051/ncaa-faces-7-new-concussion-suits-by-student-athletes.

[2] Id.

[3] NCAA Concussion Settlement Now Awaits Final Approval, ESPN.com (Jan. 26, 2016), http://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/14653320/judge-oks-reworked-ncaa-concussion-settlement;

[4] NCAA Concussion Settlement Now Awaits Final Approval, ESPN.com (Jan. 26, 2016); Ben Strauss, Six Concussion Suits are Filed Against Colleges and N.C.A.A., N.Y. TIMES (May 17, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/18/sports/ncaafootball/six-head-injury-suits-filed-in-new-front-against-colleges-and-ncaa.html?_r=0.

[5] In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation, 314 F.R.D. 580 (N.D. Ill. 2016); Strauss, supra note 4. ).te 4.notrauss,ools ary us litio for the parties involved. n the   for the NCAA, collegiant confrences, and schools ary us liti

[6]  In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation 314 F.R.D. at 593; Strauss, supra note 4.

[7] Steve Berkowitz, Judge Ok’s $75M Class-Action Concussion Settlement Against NCAA, USA TODAY (July 14, 2016), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2016/07/14/college-football-concussions-lawsuit-ncaa/87097982/.

[8] In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation 314 F.R.D. at 585.

[9] Id.

[10] In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation 314 F.R.D. at 585; Berkowitz, supra note 7.

[11] NCAA Concussion Settlement Now Awaits Final Approval, ESPN.com (Jan. 26, 2016).

[12] In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation 314 F.R.D. at 586).te 4.notrauss,ools ary us litio for the parties involved. n the   for the NCAA, collegiant confrences, and schools ary us liti.

[13] Id.at  583-84.).te 4.notrauss,ools ary us litio for the parties involved. n the   for the NCAA, collegiant confrences, and schools ary us liti

[14] Strauss, supra note 4.

[15] Id.

[16] Orzeck, supra note 1.