Class Action: District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rules on Concussion Injury Litigation settlement (In re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student–Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation)

The Policy

What it does

Preliminarily approves the terms for a $75 million settlement that includes a Medical Monitory Fund for NCAA athletes.

Synopsis

This order preliminarily approves a settlement between the NCAA athletes who sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) claiming common law and contractual claims based on the NCAA’s duty to its athletes in regards to ensuring safety measures against concussions and their long term effects.

Different plaintiffs brought similar actions against the NCAA and on behalf of NCAA student-athletes nationwide. These lawsuits were consolidated by the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation in the District Court of Northern Illinois.

This preliminary order:

  1. Approves a 50-year $70 million Medical Monitoring Fund for NCAA athletes. An additional $5 million is to be spent on research regarding the impact of concussions.
  2. Approves new and improved return-to-play guidelines for athletes that suffer from concussions.
  3. Requires the class to release any claims brought in the future as a class action related to personal injury against the NCAA.

Given that this settlement can potentially affect thousands of current and former-student athletes, the NCAA has created a website to inform those who are a part of the class about the settlement and their rights.

This settlement allows NCAA athletes to benefit from a screening process in order to better prevent and discover long-term head injuries. The new return-to-play guidelines will further restrict players from entering into play after a concussion before they are fully healed.

Context

<p>This case involves over 4.4 million athletes in forty-three different men’s and women’s sports. The NCAA has over a thousand member institutions, each of which has the option to adopt or reject the NCAA’s concussion policies, as well as the option to create its own concussion policies on a school-by-school, team-by-team, or coach-by-coach basis. Concussion education, evaluation, and treatment varies widely from NCAA institution to the next.</p>

<p>This settlement affects the following group (Class): “All persons who played an NCAA-sanctioned sport at an NCAA member institution on or prior to the Preliminary Approval Date” (which is July 15, 2016).</p>

<p>This includes the following subclasses:</p>

<ol>
<li>All persons who played an NCAA-sanctioned <strong>Contact Sport</strong> at an NCAA member institution on or prior to the Preliminary Approval Date.</li>
<li>All persons who played an NCAA-sanctioned <strong>Non-Contact</strong> Sport at an NCAA member institution on or prior to the Preliminary Approval Date.</li>
</ol>

<p>The court allowed members of the affected class to submit a written request to opt-out of the settlement before March 10, 2017. A member of the class who does not opt out of the settlement would be precluded from filing another lawsuit based on the same claims of this case. However, members of the class would still be allowed to file lawsuits related to “personal injury or bodily injury class claims on behalf of persons who allege injury resulting from their participation in a single NCAA-sanctioned sport at a single-NCAA member school.”</p>

<p>Given that members of the class that do not opt-out will be bound by the settlement, the <a href="http://www.collegeathleteconcussionsettlement.com/media/611223/01-26-16_... had to ensure that notice was given in a “reasonable manner”. The preliminary approved settlement establishes that notice should be given through different direct and indirect ways, including the following:</p>

<ul>
<li>Contact information being gathered from member schools of former and current athletes in the settlement class</li>
<li>Print Publications&nbsp;(<em>ESPN The Magazine</em>, <em>Sports Illustrated</em>, and <em>USA Today</em>)</li>
<li>Settlement Class Website</li>
<li>Press release</li>
</ul>
<p>As a result of the settlement decision, the class members were not forced to prove that the NCAA failed to warn or prevent the dangers associated with concussion injuries, like TBI and CTE.</p>

<p>There are major differences between this settlement class and the class in the <a href="http://nflconcussionlitigation.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/6073-5-Hig... Concussion Litigation</a>. As discussed in the <a href="http://www.collegeathleteconcussionsettlement.com/media/611223/01-26-16_... 26th opinion</a>, NFL class members were injured in the same, unvarying way. Each class member “returned to play prematurely after head injuries and continued to experience concussive and sub-concussive hits.”</p>

<p>The main difference between the NCAA class settlement and the NFL settlement is that NCAA players and family members do not receive any monetary compensation. This settlement only incorporates costs associated with medical monitoring and research moving forward.</p>

The Science

Science Synopsis

A number of athletes in this settlement class suffered from concussions, a mild form of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). This is caused by non-penetrating head trauma. Most patients with mild TBI will recover quickly, but others report persistent symptoms, called post-concussive syndrome. These concussive injuries have been linked to the neurodegenerative condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been shown to have long term neurological effects, but no well-validated imaging or detection of neuronal damage in patients is currently available. At present, the diagnosis can only be confirmed by a post-mordem autopsy.

In the Memorandum and Opinion for the Preliminary Approval of the Settlement, the Court acknowledged that certain facts are undisputed:

“[T]here are multiple neurodegenerative conditions associated with concussions and subconcussive hits, including Post-Concussion Syndrome (“PCS”) and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”), often clinically mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemoral dementia.”