Concussions and college football: start of the trial
A Los Angeles jury heard opening statements on Friday in the case of a widow of a former University of Southern California football player who is suing the NCAA for failing to protect her husband from repetitive head trauma .
Matthew Gee died aged 49 in 2018 from permanent brain damage caused by countless blows to the head he received while playing linebacker for the Rose Bowl-winning team in 1990, the lawsuit alleges. for wrongful death filed by Alana Gee.
The jury of eight women and six men listened with Gee and two of her three children to lengthy opening statements from both sides in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Sometimes Gee and her daughter, Melia, dabbed at their eyes with a tissue as the lawyers recounted her husband’s life and his struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction.
One of Gee’s attorneys, Justin Shrader, said she is seeking $1.8 million in damages based on her husband’s life expectancy. He said Gee was also seeking damages for wrongful death, loss of her husband’s company and a survival claim for Gee.
« Alana wants to be one of the last widows to find out that college football can cause CTE, » Shrader said, referring to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.
Of the hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed by college footballers against the NCAA over the past decade, Gee’s is only the second to go to trial with allegations that hit in the head and led to CTE. He could be the first to reach a jury.
« This case is a big deal, » said attorney Will Stute, who represents the NCAA.
The NCAA, the governing body for college athletics in the United States, said it was not responsible for the death of Gee’s husband, which it blamed on alcohol abuse, drugs and other health problems.
« We think the evidence will show that it was impossible for Matthew Gee to assume the risk of degenerative brain disease because the NCAA still thinks it doesn’t exist, » said Bill Horton, another of the attorneys for Gee.
Stute later countered, saying, « I won’t tell you that the NCAA denies that CTE is a real medical problem, but there’s still no consensus in the medical community on what causes CTE. The NCAA has always and will continue to follow the science.”
The defense sought to exclude any testimony about Gee’s teammates, and the NCAA said there was no medical evidence he suffered concussions at USC.
« This case is not about concussions, » Stute told the jury. « We’ve heard a lot about concussions. There’s no evidence that Matthew Gee has ever been diagnosed with a concussion, never reported a concussion. »
« There’s nothing the NCAA could have done to prevent Gee’s death, » Stute said.
Horton disagreed, telling the jury, « We believe he suffered a number of concussions at USC and was never warned of what might happen later in life. »
The issue of concussions in sport, and football in particular, has been front and center in recent years as research has uncovered more of the long-term effects of repeated head trauma in issues ranging from headaches depression and, sometimes, the early onset of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. sickness.
A 2018 trial in Texas led to a quick settlement after days of witness testimony for the widow of Greg Ploetz, who played Texas’ defense in the late 1960s.
In 2016, the NCAA agreed to settle a concussion class action lawsuit, paying $70 million to monitor the former college athlete’s medical condition, $5 million for medical research and payouts of up to 5 $000 for individual players claiming injuries.
Stute told the jury that he was focusing on the years 1988-92, when Gee played for the Trojans.
“Evidence will show that CTE was only discovered in a football player in 2005,” he said. « But somehow the NCAA was supposed to warn people about a disease that hadn’t yet been identified. »
The NFL has been hit with similar concussion lawsuits and eventually agreed to a settlement covering 20,000 retired players providing up to $4 million for a death involving CTE, which ends up in athletes and military veterans who suffered repetitive brain damage. It is expected to exceed $1.4 billion in payouts over 65 years for six eligibility requirements.
After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged in 2016 that research done at Boston University’s Center for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy showed a link between football and CTE, which is associated with memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It can only be diagnosed after death.
The center found CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players and 48 of 53 former college players, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Hall of Famers diagnosed after the death include Ken Stabler and Mike Webster and Junior Seau, a teammate of Gee’s at USC.
The NCAA, which in 2010 required schools to have a concussion protocol, said the long-term effects of head injuries were not well understood at the time Gee was playing.
Alana Gee donated her late husband’s brain to Boston University’s CTE Center, which confirmed he had grade 2 CTE, a lower level of the disease.
Gee’s preliminary cause of death was listed as the combined toxic effects of alcohol and cocaine with other significant conditions of cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis and obesity.
Stute posted Boston University’s summary of Matthew Gee’s medical records, which also noted that he had Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a rare congenital vascular disease that causes chronic pain.
« We think the addiction issues were due to his CTE, that the brain was affected first before other things happened, » Horton said.
Stute said the defense believes the key question is what killed Gee. He then displayed Gee’s medical records, which noted his use of marijuana, LSD and cocaine, as well as alcohol.
« He hid his alcohol and drug use from his family and doctors, » Stute said. « He continued to drink after being diagnosed with high blood pressure and liver disease. It’s not to blame Mr Gee. It’s just the facts. »
Associated Press writer Brian Melley contributed to this report.