Concussion complaints against NCAA continue to be filed in courts

A former national champion nose tackle for the University of Notre Dame football team has taken aim at his alma matter and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

On Aug. 25, Mary Elizabeth Morrison, as attorney-in-fact of Richard Morrison, filed a proposed class action complaint and demand for jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana against Notre Dame and the NCAA for “reckless disregard for the health and safety of generations of Notre Dame student-athletes.”

The class action, filed on behalf of former Notre Dame football players who played from 1952 to 2010, accuses both Notre Dame and the NCAA of breaching their duties to their student-athletes by ignoring the dangers of concussions and failing to implement adequate concussion management protocols.

Morrison played for Notre Dame from 1985 to 1988. In the complaint, Morrison claims he suffered from numerous concussions as well as countless sub-concussive hits as part of routine practice and gameplay.

He alleges through at least 2010, there were no adequate concussion management protocols or policies in place at Notre Dame, and players “would quickly be returned to the field of play or only be taken out of play or practice for an inadequate period of time” after the head blows.

As a result of the concussions, which Morrison says helped the NCAA and Notre Dame profit, he now suffers from multiple ailments, including short-term memory loss, loss of concentration, impulsive behavior/poor inhibition, emotional instability, depression, speech and language difficulty, fatigue, confusion, anxiety, insomnia, motor impairment, tinnitus, major neurocognitive disorder and frontotemporal dementia.

Morrison’s complaint claims negligence and fraudulent concealment against Notre Dame and the NCAA as well as breach of express contract against the NCAA.

On Sept. 16, the complaint was transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for multidistrict litigation. Morrison’s lawsuit now joins at least 577 additional related actions that have been transferred to Judge John Z. Lee since 2013, according to the transfer order.

Lee in 2019 approved a $75 million settlement between the NCAA and student-athletes to create a medical monitoring fund to pay for assessments of self-reported concussion symptoms and medical evaluations. A total of $5 million was also donated to research, but the lawsuit didn’t require the NCAA to admit wrongdoing.

A report filed with the court on June 18 stated 2,523 settlement class members had successfully registered to participate in the medical monitoring program and, of those members, 975 have been informed they are qualifying class members or are eligible for an in-person evaluation. Thus far, just 225 qualifying candidates have scheduled, or are in the process of scheduling, medical evaluations, according to the status report.

Morrison is being represented by Jeff Raizner of Raizner Slania LLP, as well as Jay Edelson, Benjamin Richman and Rafey Balabanian of Edelson PC, according to online records. The case’s MDL number is 2492.

At press time, a Notre Dame spokesman said the university had not been served and therefore did not have a comment on the lawsuit. The NCAA did not respond to emails requesting comment.

Morrison isn’t the only athlete calling for class action against the NCAA.

Former Purdue University football players Michael Rose and Timothy Stratton, who played in the late 90s and early 2000s, are suing the NCAA and Big Ten for damages related to concussion protocols while they played for the Boilermakers.

Rose and Stratton, who filed in 2017, are seeking approval for class certification for themselves and former Boilermakers that played football from 1952 to 2010. A status report on the case is due Oct. 30.

The case is Michael Rose, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association and Big Ten Conference, 1:17-cv-1402.

This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.

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