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Insurance dispute in college football case might settle: Filing

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Insurance coverage litigation stemming from a putative class action lawsuit filed by a former college football player who is suffering from memory loss could be headed for settlement, according to papers filed in federal court Wednesday.

Cincinnati-based Great American Assurance Co., a unit of Great American Insurance Group, said in a filing in U.S. District Court in Dallas in Great American Assurance Co. v. Conference USA that it has conferred with its policyholder in the dispute — Irving-Texas-based Conference USA, a collegiate athletic conference — and that the parties “are in the process of negotiating a stipulation that would resolve the matter without further court involvement.”

Great American said it believes a resolution is “likely” but final terms have not yet been agreed upon, the insurer said in the filing.

It asks the court to grant it an additional 30 days to either enter proof of service on Conference USA, or a voluntary notice of dismissal.

The filing was in response to an order issued by the court stating more than 90 days had elapsed since Great American’s complaint had been filed, and that the defendant had not been served.

Great American originally filed its complaint against Conference USA on May 22, seeking a declaration it had no duty to defend or indemnify Conference USA in a putative class action lawsuit filed by former college football player Willie Johnson.

The underlying lawsuit in the case, which was filed by Mr. Johnson in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis on Aug. 31, 2016, names the conference, as well as the New York-based Big East collegiate athletic conference and the Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association, as clients. The conference is an intercollegiate athletic conference in Division 1 of the NCAA.

The lawsuit says Mr. Johnson, who played football from 2003 to 2005 at the University of Louisville as an outside linebacker, defensive end and occasional special teams player, “sustained repetitive concussive and subconcussive hits” in practices and games, and each time an incident occurred he recalled “shaking it off” and being put back into the game.

He states the defendants did not implement adequate concussion management safety protocols or return-to-play guidelines during his time at the university.

Mr. Johnson says he now suffers from memory loss, mood swings, headaches and anxiety, among other issues.

The lawsuit charges the defendants with negligence, fraudulent concealment, breaches of express and implied contract and unjust enrichment.

 The case has been transferred to become part of the In Re: National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation, which is multidistrict litigation now in the U.S. District Court in Chicago.

In the coverage litigation filed in Dallas, Great American states it issued to the Conference a primary commercial general liability policy, which was in effect from February 2004 to November 2004, when it was canceled.

The combined specialty primary policy included a “limited event coverage endorsement,” which said bodily injury coverage only applies to occurrences in a list of sports that do not include football, according to the Great American lawsuit.

Two excess insurance policies followed the underlying primary insurance policies, except they did not require a duty to defend.

The National Football League reached a major settlement in 2015 with former players who sued the league after experiencing head trauma during their football careers that resulted in brain injuries.