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Head Injuries & College Football programs

head injuries and college football
October 25, 2017

There has been a lot of controversy within the game of football over the past few months, but one of the biggest ongoing controversies has been in regards to the potential dangers of the sport; more specifically, the cause of concussions and long-term brain damage in players. It's not just the fact that medical records are slowly revealing concussions to be a serious problem facing the sport of football, but that many universities may not have handled head injuries to their student-athletes properly.

Lawsuits Regarding The Handling of Head Injuries by College Football Programs

There are four schools, including Purdue, the University of Florida, Weber State and Pittsburg State, that are currently facing legal scrutiny over how they handled players who experienced head injuries while playing for their college football programs. 

Lawsuits against the NCAA and certain conferences have been used as examples by a group of almost 100 actions who are seeking monetary damages on behalf of former student-athletes who allegedly suffered or are suffering from the symptoms caused by concussions. The cases originated from a national class-action lawsuit against the NCAA concerning concussion protocol that looks to be settled soon for the sum of $75 million, which would go towards funding concussion research and a medical monitoring program for student-athletes.

The U.S. District Judge in charge of the nationwide case, John Z. Lee, allowed plaintiffs to pursue personal injury claims on a class-action basis as part of his preliminary approval for the settlement. However, those lawsuits would not be able to seek a nationwide class or a class that consisted of athletes from more than one NCAA school.

This has led to 96 lawsuits that involve schools and conferences in all three of the membership divisions of the NCAA, almost all of which name the NCAA as well as a conference as the defendants. In cases where the plaintiff played college football for certain public schools in Pennsylvania or at a private school, those schools were also named in the lawsuits. Public schools were not named due to potential difficulties associated with suiting state institutions. 

Because having 96 cases go forward could cause an overwhelming amount of chaos and because Judge Lee does not want to have a nationwide damages class, he has ordered lawyers representing defendants and plaintiffs alike to select two sample cases by each side from the 96 lawsuits that have been filed. These cases will be used to test the viability of the other cases. 

The four cases that were chosen were chosen, according to the plaintiffs, as a representative of the 96 lawsuits as a whole and not on the basis of the best possible case for either side, although the defendants argued that two of the cases that were chosen represented the worst of the alleged injuries of any of the 96 cases.

The Impact of the Hearing

While the Judge's order in the nationwide case resulted in the 96 lawsuits, it also made it difficult for plaintiffs to have their individual cases certified into a class action lawsuit. Without such designation, these lawsuits could only apply to their named plaintiffs.

According to Judge Lee, the nationwide case does not provide the facts necessary to be able to conclude that a class action lawsuit narrowly defined in regards to size, time period and type of sport could never be certified against a specific school. He also determined that a narrowly defined, personal injury class action lawsuit against a single school could not be certified against the NCAA.