As more information links brain injuries to certain professional sports, including football, hockey, and soccer, more concussion lawsuits are being filed by former athletes who allege that people who should have protected them, or at least warned them about those risks, failed to do so. The NFL, NHL and NCAA have all settled lawsuits filed against them, but those settlements do not prevent more lawsuits from being filed by athletes who were not included in the agreements.
Now, a new lawsuit has been filed against the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), alleging the organization put profits ahead of athlete safety, leaving players at risk of serious brain injuries. It is not the first such lawsuit the NCAA has faced regarding its treatment of athletes. Earlier this year, a similar lawsuit was filed by the widow of a deceased former college football quarterback, alleging his death was linked to brain injuries he sustained while playing college football. The association also previously settled a class action lawsuit for $75 million.
Brain Injury Lawsuit Filed Against NCAA and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference
The most recent lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jeffrey Williams, who is a former NCAA football player, and approximately 20 other former NCAA athletes. Williams played football in the NCAA in the 1990s and alleges he suffered numerous concussions and now endures symptoms consistent with long-term brain injuries linked to his football years.
In addition to the NCAA, Williams named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference as a defendant. He argues that officials with the NCAA knew for years about the risk of brain injuries associated with football but chose to put profits and self-promotion ahead of player safety. Specifically, the association failed to warn athletes that as little as one concussion could result in long-term injury or even death, Williams’ lawsuit claims.
Jeffrey Williams’ Lawsuit Follows Lawsuit Filed by Cullen Finnerty’s Widow
In 2018, Jennifer Finnerty, widow of Cullen Finnerty, filed a lawsuit against the NCAA alleging his death was linked to brain injuries sustained while he played for the association. Finnerty played quarterback for Grand Valley State University and during his time became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history, with an impressive 51-4 record from 2003 to 2006.
Seven years after his final game in the NCAA, Finnerty went missing and died during a fishing trip after previously showing signs of brain injury, including paranoia. His body was found in the woods. An autopsy showed Finnerty had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and although researchers at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy said Finnerty had moderate CTE, it may still have been a factor in his death.
Finnerty’s lawsuit alleges that the NCAA knew for decades about the link between severe head impacts and long-term brain injury but “recklessly ignored these facts and failed to implement reasonable concussion management protocols to protect its athletes.” It also alleges the NCAA was in a better position than its athletes to know about and prevent concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.
The widows of two other former NCAA athletes and the mother of another have all filed lawsuits against the NCAA as well.
NCAA Previously Settled Concussion Lawsuits
The NCAA previously agreed to a $75 million settlement to end a class action brain injury lawsuit, according to reports. Funds from that lawsuit were to set up a $70 million medical monitoring program for athletes, with an additional $5 million to go towards research efforts to combat the effects of concussions. That settlement, however, did not include money for damages or treatment.
Other leagues, including the NFL and NHL, have also settled brain injury lawsuits filed against them. The NHL announced a tentative $18.9 million US settlement with approximately 300 former hockey players, who also alleged the league did not warn them about brain injury risks or protect them from head injuries. In the settlement, however, the NHL did not admit to any liability. As part of the agreement, the league will pay for neurological testing and assessment, a common good fund for retired players, and up to $75,000 in medical treatment for players who test positive for a serious brain injury.
The NFL, meanwhile, settled its class action lawsuits for approximately $1 billion.