Former Duke football player Derrick Lee has joined an increasing number of former players who are suing for compensation for concussions.
Lee is suing Duke, the ACC and the NCAA for knowing about the debilitating long-term dangers of concussions and related injuries and actively concealing this information to protect the business of college football. Lee is seeking class-action status so all Duke football players from 1953-2010 can join his lawsuit. Duke joined the ACC in 1953. The NCAA passed legislation in 2010 that required its member institutions to have a concussion management plan in place for all sports.
The Chicago-based law firm Edelson PC filed four similar class-action lawsuits last week for Lee and athletes who played at Tennessee, Ohio State and Michigan. None of those three public schools is named in a lawsuit because states and state schools are often immune to such lawsuits (those three suits target the NCAA and the Big Ten and SEC). As a private school, Duke does not get that immunity.
Lee’s suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, where the NCAA has its Indianapolis headquarters. The firm also filed six similar class-action lawsuits in May. Those suits targeted Penn State, Vanderbilt, the Big Ten, SEC and Pac 12 conferences.
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“These lawsuits, all filed by the same counsel using the exact same language, are mere copycat activity of the cases he filed last month,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement.
Lee was a defensive back at Duke from 1998-2003 and claims to have suffered multiple concussions while playing for the Blue Devils. One concussion in 2000 caused him to seek treatment at Duke University Hospital. Lee claims that Duke never made him aware of the dangers of concussions and concussion-related injuries and that the school never had concussion management protocols or policies or any return-to-play guidelines. Lee also claims that Duke actively taught football players to “inflict head injuries on themselves and others as an effective way to play football.”
The suit alleges that Lee, who lives in North Carolina, “now suffers from deficits in cognitive functioning, reduced processing speed, decline in attention and reasoning, loss of memory, sleeplessness, mood swings, depression, anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, sensitivity to light, headaches and blackouts among other issues.”
Lee is seeking class-action status for his lawsuit, compensation for legal fees, and “all economic, monetary, actual, consequential, compensatory, and punitive damages caused by Defendants’ conduct, including without limitation damages for past, present, and future medical expenses, other out of pocket expenses, lost time and interest, lost future earnings, and other damages.”
Duke spokesperson Michael Schoenfeld and ACC spokesperson Amy Yakola both said their respective institutions do not comment on pending litigation.
The 10 lawsuits Edelson PC have filed on behalf of former football players are coming on the heels of another concussion suit with a settlement awaiting approval from a federal judge in Illinois.
Former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington sued the NCAA in 2011 for its handling of concussions. The proposed settlement does not include any compensation for former players. It calls for the NCAA to make a $70 million fund for testing and monitoring former athletes for brain trauma and an additional $5 million for concussion research. The settlement would not allow former college athletes to file class claims that relate in any way to medical monitoring or medical treatment of concussions or sub-concussive impact.
The settlement to the original 2011 lawsuit was first submitted in July 2014, which is representative of how long these cases can take.
“Failing to achieve a bodily injury component to the Arrington case settlement, it appears that counsel is attempting to extract a bodily injury settlement through the filing of these new questionable class actions,” Remy said in a statement. “This strategy will not work. The NCAA does not believe that these complaints present legitimate legal arguments and expects that they can be disposed of early by the court.”