NCAA concussion cases sent to Chicago by U.S. judges’ panel

Ten lawsuits accusing the Indianapolis-based National Collegiate Athletic Association of concealing the long-term risks of concussions sustained in student sports must be litigated in Chicago, a federal judges’ panel ruled.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which heard arguments on Dec. 5 over where to group the cases for the exchange of evidence and pre-trial rulings, Wednesday selected Chicago, where the first of the class actions was filed in 2011.

While that first case, brought by one-time Eastern Illinois University football team captain Adrian Arrington, wasn’t focused only on football, most of the cases that followed it involve “nearly completely overlapping putative classes and claims,” the judges said.

“We find that these actions involve common questions of fact and that centralization in the Northern District of Illinois will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses,” promoting efficient litigation, according to the panel ruling.

All of the lawsuits seek court-ordered medical monitoring for their varying groups of former student athletes who sustained concussions or concussion-like symptoms.

Medical monitoring

Similar allegations lodged by professional football players against the NFL resulted in a $765 million settlement in August, which included a medical monitoring program.

The NCAA denies it was negligent.

“The association has specifically addressed the issue of head injuries through a combination of playing rules, equipment requirements, and medical best practices,” Stacey Osburn, an NCAA spokeswoman, said this month. “We continue to believe our policies and rules address student-athlete safety, and do not believe the individual or proposed class action allegations are appropriate.”

The concussion cases have been assigned to U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee, who is presiding over Arrington’s litigation.

“We have expended nearly 8,000 hours conducting discovery,” including review of evidence and taking depositions, Arrington lawyer Elizabeth Fegan told the panel at the Dec. 5 hearing in Las Vegas, arguing for its selection of Chicago.

A request to certify two proposed plaintiffs’ classes is already before the judge, she said.

While the NCAA supported consolidation of the cases in Chicago, lawyers for a separate group of plaintiffs that sued the association and two helmet makers asked the panel to leave their suit in the Indiana capital where it was filed.

Attorneys for the helmet makers, Riddell Inc. and Kranos Corp., which does business as Schutt Sports, also opposed including their clients’ sole case with the others.

The panel agreed to sever those claims and leave them in the Indianapolis court.

“It seems unlikely that the products liability claims would share sufficient overlap with the common claims against the NCAA to warrant inclusion in centralized proceedings,” the judges said.

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