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More football concussion lawsuits filed against NCAA

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A Houston-based law firm said Wednesday it had filed six concussion claims against the NCAA and several Division I universities and athletic conferences.

Raizner Slania L.L.P. said in a statement Wednesday that it had filed the lawsuits in various courts around the country seeking compensation on behalf of classes of former athletes from Penn State University, Auburn University, the University of Oregon, University of Georgia, University of Utah, and Vanderbilt University.

Chicago attorney Jay Edelson of Edelson P.C., who is leading this latest effort to sue the NCAA, said 40 to 50 class-action lawsuits will eventually get filed on behalf of tens of thousands of ex-football players, according to media reports.

A complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. The filing lists Raizner, Mr. Edelson and three other attorneys as representing lawsuit plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs charge that the defendants, including the NCAA, Penn State, the PAC-12 Conference, the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt University, and the Western Athletic Conference, breached their duties to student-athletes by concealing the dangers of concussions and failing to implement appropriate safety protocols.

The filed complaint charges that until 2010, the NCAA and the SEC “kept their players and the public in the dark about an epidemic that was slowly killing their athletes.”

“Over time,” the complaint said, “the repetitive and violent impacts to players' heads led to repeated concussions that severely increased their risks of long term brain injuries, including memory loss, dementia, depression, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy ('CTE'), Parkinson's disease, and other related symptoms. Meaning, long after they played their last game, they are left with a series of neurological events that could slowly strangle and choke their brains.”

The plaintiff in this particular case, Joseph Miller, played football from 1996 to 1998 at Auburn as a linebacker.

“During hitting drills and regular practice scrimmages,” the complaint said, “Miller would hit so hard that he would see stars or black out, lose balance, and try to shake it off. These incidents happened two to three times per week during football practice and football season. Miller graduated from Auburn in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Over time, Miller began to experience the consequences of these blows. He began to lose memory and struggle with depression, anxiety and other diagnosed disorders.”

Mr. Miller, the complaint said, “now suffers from deficits in cognitive functioning, reduced processing speed, decline in attention and reasoning, loss of memory, sleeplessness, and mood swings, among other issues.”

The plaintiffs charge that the NCAA and the other defendants ignored the medical risks to college football players; aggravated and enhanced medical risks to college football players; failed to educate college football players about the link between traumatic brain injuries in amateur football and chronic neurological damage, illnesses, and decline; failed to implement or enforce any system that would reasonably have mitigated, prevented, or addressed these injuries that college football players suffered; and failed to timely implement “return to play” guidelines for student-athletes who sustain concussions.

Even when defendants began to make changes, the law firm said, their policies remained flawed, “to the lifelong detriment of thousands of 18 to 22 year olds.” These deficient policies were implemented far too late for the putative class of college football players, the firm said, who suffered reasonably foreseeable harm as a result of the NCAA's actions, and those of its member institutions and conferences.

“While (the lawsuit) is a major step for collegiate athletes who have been forced to deal with the lifelong impacts of concussions, we remain disappointed that the NCAA has at every turn sought to avoid accountability toward generations of players who entrusted their well-being to this organization,” Jeff Raizner, partner at Raizner Slania, said in a statement. “We fully expect to file a number of additional lawsuits in the coming weeks and months.”

The NCAA did not respond to an email seeking comment by the time this story was posted. The NCAA is finalizing a $75 million settlement from a different lawsuit related to concussions.

Last month a federal appeals court approved a class action settlement that may cost the National Football League $1 billion. The settlement, which is expected to cover more than 20,000 retired football players over the course of 65 years, releases all concussion-related claims against the NFL, according to the ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.