Vaughan: NCAA concussion lawsuits consolidated

A panel of judges has consolidated a flurry of concussion lawsuits filed against the NCAA, moving jurisdiction for all of them to Chicago – where the first suit was filed in 2011.

The decision, rendered Dec. 18 by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) following a hearing in Las Vegas, means the NCAA now faces the prospect of reaching a single settlement in all the pending federal cases.

The first lawsuit alleging the NCAA was lax in addressing a growing concussion problem was brought by four former college athletes, including former football player Adrian Arrington. The players were seeking class-action status – meaning the case would cover all “similarly situated” former athletes – when the suit was put on hold in mid-August after their attorneys and lawyers for the NCAA agreed to enter mediation aimed at settling the case.

“We appreciate the MDL panel making the correct decision to send the cases to Chicago, where our Arrington case has been pending for nearly three years and where we have already litigated the case all the way to pending class certification,” said Joe Siprut, one of the lawyers representing the four former players.

The NCAA’s offices are closed during the holidays, and a spokesman could not be reached Tuesday.

The original lawsuit alleged the NCAA was negligent because it failed to adopt any formal concussion policy until 2010 – and even when it did, failed to establish minimum standards outlining how players should be assessed for head injuries and when they should be allowed to return to competition.

That NCAA policy simply mandated each member school adopt its own concussion management plan.

A Fox Sports investigation found that those policies vary widely.

At the University of Houston, for example, the team doctor, Walter Lowe, has instituted the same protocols mandated by the NFL for assessing concussions and other brain injuries and returning players to competition. But Fox Sports found that at other schools student trainers could be charged with determining whether a player had suffered a serious head injury.

Some experts told Fox Sports they believed the NCAA could have a harder time defending itself than the NFL, which agreed last August to pay $765 million in injury settlements, medical assessments and care for former players who suffered concussions and other brain injuries.

The first federal case was filed in 2011 on behalf of four athletes: Arrington, a football player at Eastern Illinois from 2006-09; Angel Palacios, a soccer player at Ouachita Baptist from 2010 to 2011; Derek Owens, a football player at Central Arkansas from 2008-10; and Kyle Solomon, a hockey player at Maine from 2008-10.

Since agreeing on Aug. 15 to mediation, the two sides have been meeting behind closed doors to discuss a possible settlement. That process is believed to be ongoing, though neither lawyers for the players nor the NCAA will comment on where negotiations stand.

Since the announcement of the effort to settle the case, 10 more federal suits have been filed.

In all, the 11 lawsuits were filed on behalf of 23 named athletes – 21 of them football players. Those players competed in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Three competed as recently as 2011, and one played in 2012.

One of the suits also named helmet manufacturer Riddell and its parent company. That lawsuit was split into two cases – one against the NCAA that was consolidated with all the others and a separate suit against the helmet manufacturer that will proceed in federal court in Indiana.

Any potential settlement with the NCAA also could be applied to a lawsuit filed in state court in Alabama by a former Samford University soccer player.