Head-injury settlement with NCAA may be approaching resolution, attorney says

By Katherine Dempsey

Photo by Mvongrue/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/47611288@N00/

At a motion hearing Tuesday, a federal judge indicated further concerns regarding a settlement to resolve a class action head-injury lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Still, plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Berman said Wednesday that he’s hopeful that U.S. District Court Judge John Z. Lee will give the case preliminary approval soon.

The $75 million settlement would pay for testing of past and present college athletes who think they may have sustained brain injuries during play. Plus, it would require baseline testing for current athletes to figure out how severe concussions are that they sustain during season play. Out of the $75 million, $5 million would go toward research.

On Tuesday Lee, a U.S. district court judge in Chicago, told the plaintiffs’ attorneys to include extra class representatives in the non-contact sport category, coming from the sports with the highest concussion rates, according to Berman. As of the last motion hearing in October, the judge questioned whether the suit included a sufficient representation of athletes playing in non-contact sports. After that, athletes from non-contact sports were added but, on Tuesday, Lee asked for more non-contact athletes in the class, Berman said.

Before the next hearing December 19, plaintiffs’ attorneys must find more non-contact sport athletes who concur with and sign the settlement agreement, according to Berman.  He said he suspects water polo, gymnastics and softball displaying the highest concussion rates in non-contact sports. The settlement itself covers every NCAA athlete, he pointed out.

Berman says he’s “fairly confident” that Lee will give the settlement preliminary approval. He expects that the settlement will be finalized around next June if the judge approves it soon after December 19.

The NCAA responded to an email asking General Counsel Scott Bearby whether he anticipated additions or changes to the proposed settlement. “We continue to believe the proposed settlement should be approved and that we think any concerns the judge has can be resolved without material changes to the agreement,” according to Stacey Osburn, director of public and media relations for the NCAA.

Berman said he thinks Lee’s request for extra class representatives signifies that the judge will overrule objections that have been raised against the settlement.

“I think it’s a good sign,” Berman said, referring to Tuesday’s action. He is with law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, which has an office in Chicago.

The settlement awaiting approval represents multiple suits filed from around the country and consolidates more than 10 cases into one.