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Massive NFL Brain Injury Lawsuit Settlement in Play, Families Continue to Sue

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Germantown, MDAs the National Football League (NFL) sorts through a potential multimillion-dollar settlement with players and their families over brain injury, the family of a Frostburg State University football player who died after a grueling practice at the Maryland campus has filed a brain injury lawsuit alleging wrongful death.

It is further alleged that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which raked in $838 million in revenue last year, does little to educate or protect its players from catastrophic injury, in spite of its origins in the early 1900s as an entity pledged to protect players.

The NCAA is named as defendants in the brain injury lawsuit, along with the school, head coach Thomas Rogish, and Schutt Sports - the manufacturer of the helmet the player was wearing at the time.

According to the lawsuit, Derek Sheely was suited up as a fullback and was part of an intense practice session at pre-season camp allegedly known as an “Oklahoma drill.” A series of grueling, head-to-head collisions involving linebackers and fullbacks such as Sheely exposed the players to successive concussive blows, according to the lawsuit.

At one point, Sheely exited the field bleeding from his forehead during four consecutive practice sessions at the August 2011 camp. However, he returned to the field for additional drills.

Several days later, according to Highlands Today (8/26/13), Sheely reported to an assistant coach that he “didn’t feel right” and complained of a headache. The date was August 22, 2011. Sheely walked off the field, only to collapse into a coma, in which he lingered for six days before he died.

The lawsuit alleges the 22-year-old student was never checked for potential concussions during the grueling practices.

“One of Derek’s teammates described the demeanor of the practices leading up to Derek’s fatal injury as completely ‘out of control,’” the lawsuit said. “What is more, the word ‘concussion’ is not stated a single time in Frostburg’s team policies. Thus, the coaches treated all injuries - brain injuries and ankle sprains - the same: You were expected to play through them.” The lawsuit alleged the promising student, who dreamed of working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), died from preventable brain trauma.

On another front, the two sides in a brain injury dispute involving the NFL are mulling over a proposed $765 million settlement. Various players, and the surviving families of those who have died, sued the NFL in a sensational class-action bran injury lawsuit alleging the league knew about the potential for concussions from repeated blows to the head during game play and practice, but did little to prevent concussions.

According to Postmedia Breaking News (8/29/13), the settlement, if approved, would help fund medical exams, research and concussion-related compensation for affected players. The proposed settlement was announced by US District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia following months of court-ordered mediation.

The NFL has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has maintained that the safety of its players is and always has been a top priority. Ironically, the settlement, if approved, would shield the NFL from having to disclose internal documents related to what the league might have known about concussions, and when.

A concussion is caused by a blow to the head and represents injury to the brain when a moving skull is stopped suddenly. A helmet will protect the skull but does nothing to protect the brain within, which collides with the interior of the skull during a rapid descent in velocity, such as that which occurs during a skiing accident or in the foregoing repeated blows to the head during the playing of football.

Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurologist based in Boston and an expert on sports concussions, notes the potential for second-impact syndrome, a condition stemming from subsequent concussions that occurs before a previous concussion has the opportunity to fully heal. While second-impact syndrome is rare, Dr. Cantu said in comments published in Highlands Today, they can nonetheless prove fatal within minutes. Such subsequent trauma to a brain vulnerable from a previous injury has the potential to cause severe brain swelling, until the brain subsequently ruptures from the brain stem.

Brain injury law suggests that sponsoring organizations such as football teams must be aware of the potential for brain injury, and take reasonable steps to protect its players from traumatic brain injury. This can include but is not limited to ongoing education about brain injury, and policies that allow for a player suspected of incurring a concussion to leave the field and sit out as long as necessary, following examination by a qualified physician.

The latter flies in the face of an unspoken culture seen in a majority of teams that values toughness above all else. The NFL has been rocked by the emergence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease thought to be triggered by successive concussions. Other professional sports, as well as those at the college and high school levels, have been placed under the microscope following the deaths of some high-profile former professional football and hockey players.

Parents of injured athletes at the college and high school level are increasingly seeking help from a brain injury lawyer.

The Sheely lawsuit is Kristen L. Sheely et al. v. the National Collegiate Athletic Association et al., number 380569-V in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Md.

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