Landmark wrongful death lawsuit against NCAA heads to trial with CTE claim


The 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 is bringing what could be a landmark case to a Los Angeles jury on Friday.

Matthew Gee died 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, wrongful death lawsuit alleges filed by Alana Gee.

Among the hundreds of wrongful death and bodily injury lawsuits brought by college footballers against the NCAA in the past decade, Gee’s is only the second to stand trial, alleging blows to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. He could be the first to reach a jury.

“For years (the NCAA) kept players like Matthew Gee and the public in the dark about an epidemic that was slowly killing college athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Long after playing their last game, they find themselves with a series of neurological disorders that could slowly strangle their brains.”

The NCAA, the governing body for college athletics in the United States, said it was not responsible for Gee’s death, which it blamed on excessive alcohol consumption, drugs and other health problems.

“Mr Gee used alcohol and drugs to cope with a traumatic childhood, to bridge the loss of identity he felt after his footballing days ended and to numb the chronic and mounting pain caused by numerous health conditions,” NCAA attorneys wrote in a filing in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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.

The NFL was hit with similar lawsuits and eventually agreed to a settlement covering 20,000 retired players provide up to $4 million for a death involving CTE, which is found in athletes and military veterans who have suffered repetitive brain injury. It is expected to exceed $1.4 billion in payouts over 65 years for six eligibility requirements.

After years of denials, the NFL recognized in 2016 this research done at Boston University’s Center for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy showed a link between soccer and CTE, which is associated with memory loss, depression, and progressive dementia.

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 by 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.

Gee, 49, was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans team who died before he turned 50. As for Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, Gee’s brain was posthumously examined at BU and found to have CTE.

The defense sought to exclude any testimony about Gee’s teammates, and the NCAA said there was no medical evidence that Gee suffered concussions at USC.

Two ex-teammates, however, testified in depositions to beatings they received regularly at a time when they were told to hit with the head.

Mike Salmon, who joined the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills of the NFL, recalled Gee and other linebackers being “out of it” on hard-hitting workouts.

“Matt hit like a truck,” Salmon said. “I’ve seen him come back in the caucus a bit. You could tell…he wasn’t all there.

“It was our job to make helmet-to-helmet contact in the ’80s,” testified Gene Fruge, a former nose tackler. “There was no doubt about it. It was your job, to blast the man in front of you.

The NCAA, which required schools in 2010 to have a concussion protocol, said the long-term effects of head injuries were not well understood at the time Gee was playing.

Gee’s lawsuit said the debilitating effects of concussions and other traumatic impacts on the brain have been known for about a century, first from studies of “drunk punch” boxers and later from discoveries in football and other contact sports.

“The NCAA knew of the adverse effects … on athletes for decades, ignored those facts, and failed to institute meaningful methods of warning and/or protecting athletes,” the lawsuit said. “For the NCAA, the continued expansion and operation of college football was simply too profitable to jeopardize.”

In his senior year, Gee captained the team and led USC in tackles, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries.

After graduating in 1992, Gee was cut by the Los Angeles Raiders in training camp. He married Alana, his college sweetheart, and they had three children while he ran his own insurance company in Southern California. For 20 years, he lived a “relatively normal” life, according to the lawsuit.

That changed around 2013, when he began to lose control of his emotions, according to the lawsuit. He became angry, confused and depressed. He drank a lot. He told a doctor that days would pass without him being able to remember what had happened.

When he died on New Year’s Eve 2018, the 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.

Joseph Low, a Los Angeles attorney for traumatic brain injury clients who is not involved in the case, said drug and alcohol abuse can become a symptom of brain injury when those who suffer from it suffer are trying to heal themselves. Blaming Gee’s death on drug addiction will not shield the NCAA from evidence showing he had CTE, which is not caused by drugs and alcohol, Low said.

“It’s a distraction,” Low said. “It really is a disgusting way to do character assassination. It’s what you call defense strategy 101.”


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