The NCAA and several co-defendants reached a landmark $1.2 million settlement Monday with the parents of a Frostburg State University football player who died from a head injury he sustained during a practice in 2011.
The settlement marks the first payment by the NCAA to individual plaintiffs in a brain-injury case. The NCAA has proposed paying $70 million for concussion testing and diagnosis of current and former college athletes to settle several consolidated, concussion-related class actions.
“This is a landmark settlement not just because it is the first brain-injury case that the NCAA has agreed to pay a significant amount of money to resolve, but also because the stakeholders of football are now on notice that they have an obligation to protect the health and safety of the athletes,” said Independence attorney Kenneth McClain, who represented the parents of Derek Sheely.
“While we were eager to try this case to a jury, we were able to craft a settlement that will have a much greater impact than a verdict could have achieved in this case.”
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Sheely, 22, was a senior fullback at the Division III school when he died in August 2011. Parents Ken and Kristen Sheely of Germantown alleged in their $1.6 million lawsuit that he was a victim of “second-impact syndrome” — a brain injury that occurs before a previous concussion has healed.
“Preseason practices at Frostburg served more as a gladiatorial thrill for the coaches than learning sessions for the players,” they said in a filing.
In August 2013, The Star reported on the lawsuit, which alleged that “Derek’s life was sacrificed to a sport.”
His parents contended that Sheely had suffered a concussion the previous season and was bleeding persistently from the forehead in 2011 after several days of drills. They alleged that when he complained of a headache on the day he was fatally hurt, then-assistant coach Jamie Schumacher yelled, “Stop your bitching and moaning and quit acting like a (wimp)and get back out there, Sheely.”
Neither the NCAA nor the other defendants — three athletic staff members, Illinois-based helmet maker Kranos Corp. and Pennsylvania based helmet retailer George L. Heider Inc. — admitted liability.
The $1.2 million settlement will go to the Derek Sheely Foundation, established by Sheely’s parents, to help fund research on risks to student-athletes, and a scholarship in Sheely’s name. The NCAA also agreed to produce a video on head-injury risks, and to continue discussing with its member institutions policies aimed at reducing head injuries.
The settlement includes $50,000 approved last month by the state of Maryland on behalf of the school staff members. Neither NCAA nor the plaintiffs’ lawyers would provide a breakdown of the settlement among the other defendants. Lawyers for Kranos and Heider didn’t immediately return calls and emails from The Associated Press.
NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said in a statement that the settlement will help the Sheely Foundation advance research and education.
“As a leader in promoting enhanced safety in college sports, the NCAA is firmly committed to fostering greater understanding of student-athlete well-being,” Remy said.
Sheely’s parents issued a statement thanking Derek’s teammates who provided evidence. “We believe that Derek’s case has set an important precedent and helped shape the national dialogue,” they said. “We also believe that more must be done to protect athletes, and we will continue to make this our mission.”