Is the NCAA about to face a reckoning for failing to take concussions seriously enough? More than 300 lawsuits have been filed by former college football players against college sports’ governing body. They may be hoping for a billion-dollar settlement fund like that achieved by NFL players, but they have a challenging road ahead.
The plaintiffs claim that mistreated concussions during their playing years have led to medical conditions ranging from headaches to depression and early-onset Parkinson’s disease to Alzheimer’s disease. It seems likely that these conditions can indeed be caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which occurs when people suffer a series of small, otherwise non-serious concussions over time.
The former players will have to prove not only that their conditions could be caused by untreated concussions but that they probably were. Then, they would have to show why the NCAA is responsible for those injuries and medical conditions.
Other plaintiffs are suing college conferences and even individual colleges and universities. However, public colleges and universities may be protected by state sovereignty laws, meaning that they cannot be held liable in most cases. However, private colleges and universities are generally not protected by those laws.
Whether the players are suing the NCAA, their college conference or their school, they will have to identify a duty owed to them that was breached. For example, the defendant could be shown to have a duty to ensure proper medical care when a player is injured. Failure to provide appropriate concussion care would breach such a duty. But the duty has to be proven.
The NCAA may have had such a duty toward the college players, at least after 2010 when the organization began requiring a specific concussion protocol. If conferences or individual schools also required concussion protocols of their membership or staff, they may also have had a duty.
Some of these cases are already in the courts. Once case against the NCAA resulted in a $75-million settlement. In that case, the NCAA only agreed to give players $5,000 apiece, with the rest of the money being earmarked for medical research and monitoring of former players.
It will be interesting to see if judges and juries find merit in these cases — and how any money recovered is distributed among the affected players.
If you or a loved one has been injured playing sports, you may have a legal case. You assume some risk by playing, but that may not mean you can’t recover any damages. Each case is different and depends on the individual circumstances. It’s a good idea to have your case evaluated by an experienced personal injury attorney.