Collegiate sports have been a major source of entertainment for many over the years. While a myriad of different types of college sports are played and broadcasted for the world to see, football in particular is often touted as the most popular, as well as one of the most dangerous for its players.
The sport – as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – has been under major scrutiny in recent years due to the dangers of student athletes suffering head injuries and concussions. While the NCAA has been embroiled in nationwide, class action lawsuits for several years, a ruling this June could prove to be a major milestone in the litigation.
Concussions and College Football
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when an impact causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth against the skull. While spinal fluid protects the brain from touching the skull, even relatively minor impacts – as well as direct impacts to the head – can cause the brain to push through this fluid and touch the skull.
Multiple studies have shown college football players can receive more than 1,000 impacts greater than 10Gs (a ‘G’ is the force of gravity or acceleration on the body). The majority of football-related injuries to the head often exceed 20Gs. While concussions can result in many short-term injuries and symptoms, such as dizziness, confusion, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and memory loss, they can also have long lasting effects that impact players for life.
The long-term effects of NCAA concussions can be devastating. Conditions like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) are often seen in football players who have received multiple concussions over several years. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that can have negative effects on impulse control, anger, aggression, depression, and paranoia. In addition to CTE, other long-term effects of concussions can include:
Irritability and other personality changes
Sensitivity to light and noise
Depression and other psychological problems
Disorders of smell and taste
Recent Motion to Dismiss
College football programs across the country have faced legal scrutiny regarding the handling of student athlete head injuries and concussions. These lawsuits in particular have named the school’s respective conferences, as well as the NCAA, as defendants for a group of nearly 100 seeking monetary damages on behalf of former players who suffered or are continuing to suffer from the effects of concussions.
There have been hundreds of lawsuits filed involving schools and conferences from coast to coast in all three of the NCAA’s membership divisions, which have been consolidated in the Northern District of Illinois in a multi-district litigation. At the outset of the litigation, four sample cases were chosen and the NCAA filed motions to dismiss all of the plaintiffs’ claims In those cases.
Judge John Z. Lee of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently ruled favorably on the second and third motion to dismiss and, just this past month, came to a decision regarding the fourth and final motion to dismiss.
In June, Judge Lee made his ruling on the recent case involving Weber State University defensive lineman Eric Weston, who included the Big Sky Conference as a defendant in the lawsuit. Weston sued both the NCAA and the Big Sky Conference based upon theories of negligence, breach of express and implied contract, breach of express contract as a third-party beneficiary, and unjust enrichment. All of these claims arose out of the defendant’s alleged failure to adopt and implement adequate concussion treatment, concussion management safety protocols, and return-to-play guidelines. According to a document filed in 2017, Weston had been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, as well as a major neurocognitive disorder, and frontal lobe impairment following multiple concussions sustained during play.
Big Sky Conference moved to dismiss Weston’s claims, citing a lack of personal jurisdiction under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which Judge Lee ultimately granted because Big Sky’s headquarters and Weston’s school were both located in Utah and no conference member schools have ever been located in Indiana.
The NCAA moved to dismiss Weston’s contract and quasi-contract claims, arguing that he failed to adequately plead the elements of his claims. However, after a thorough review of the complaint, Judge Lee ultimately concluded that Weston sufficiently pleaded his claims against the NCAA. Accordingly, the NCAA’s motion to dismiss was denied.
While the court declined to dismiss the claims against the NCAA, despite dismissing the claims against the Big Sky Conference, this ruling proves to be a major milestone for players pursuing NCAA concussion lawsuits. Weston’s case ultimately signals that these cases are likely to continue to move forward into active discovery.
Protecting Players Against the NCAA
Concussions can have devastating lasting effects on those who suffer from them. College football players are particularly susceptible to concussions and often sustain several per season. At Raizner Law, we represent former college football players suffering from brain injury conditions, including CTE, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and more, in lawsuits against the NCAA, universities, and athletic conferences. If you or someone you love has suffered from head injuries as the result of sports-related concussions, contact us today to discuss your case.