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NCAA, Student-Athletes Reach Settlement In Head-Injury Class Action

CHICAGO — (Mealey’s) The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and student-athletes claiming head injuries suffered in intercollegiate play reached a $75 million settlement of their federal class action suit July 29 (In re National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litgation, MDL No. 2492, Mas(ter Docket No. 1:13-cv-09116, N.D. Ill.). 

(Settlement agreement available.  Document #77-140812-001X.

The class action originated as two suits (Adrian Arrington, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al., No. 11-6356, N.D. Ill.; Chris Walker, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al., No. 13-293, E.D. Tenn.) that were transerred to and consolidated before U.S. Judge John Z. Lee of the Northern District of Illinois by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in December.  Since that time, 11 additional actions were transferred to Judge Lee. 

Medical Monitoring

Of the settlement amount, $70 million will be used to fund medical monitoring for student-athletes and $5 million will be dedicated to research into sports-related head injuries.  There is no provision for damages.  Athletes claiming sports-related head injuries will be permitted to file individual suits.  The class is defined in the settlement agreement as “all current or former student-athletes who played an NCAA-sanctioned sport at an NCAA member institution on or prior to” the date of preliminary approval of the settlement, subject to several exclusions.  

The settlement establishes a Medical Science Committee consisting of four medical experts and chaired by retired U.S. Judge Wayne R. Andersen of the Northern District of Illinois to oversee procedures for the medical monitoring program.  The first three members are Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Cantu, medical director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports injury research, and Dr. Ruben Echemendia, a clinical neuropsychologist.  The fourth member will be selected by the chair.  The program will last for 50 years and will include periodic screening questionnaires to be completed by members of the class and follow-up medical evaluations as needed.   

Return-To-Play Guidelines

In addition to the monetary provision, the proposed settlement requires member institutions to change their return-to-play guidelines to require that all student-athletes undergo preseason baseline testing for each sport in which they participate.  An athlete who has been diagnosed with a concussion in a practice or game may not return to play the same day and must be cleared by a physician before returning to practice or competition.  In addition, medical personnel with training in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussion must be present at all contact sports games and practices in NCAA Divisions 1, 2 and 3.  

The NCAA will also establish procedures for member institutions to report information about concussions and for third parties to report concerns about concussion-management issues and will require that member institutions provide concussion education and training approved by the NCAA to student-athletes, coaches and athletic trainers before every season for the duration of the medical monitoring period. 

No Admission Of Liability

The NCAA continues to deny the claims asserted by the student-athletes but says it agreed to the settlement “solely to avoid the substantial expense, burden, inconvenience, and disruption of continued litigation.” 

The settlement is subject to approval by Judge Lee.  

Counsel for the class are Steve W. Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Seattle and Joseph J. Siprut of Siprut PC in Chicago.  The NCAA is represented by Mark S. Mester of Latham & Watkins in Chicago and Scott A. Bearby of the NCCA in Indianapolis. 

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