An Independence firm has announced a $1.2 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of a deceased Maryland college football player against the NCAA, two helmet manufacturers and three Frostburg State University employees.
The case stems from the death of Derek Sheely, a Frostburg State University football player who died in August 2011 from second-impact syndrome. The settlement was finalized Aug. 6, but was reached prior to a scheduled June trial.
In 2013, parents Ken and Kristen Sheely sued the NCAA, Kranos (doing business as Schutt Sports), George L. Heider Inc. (doing business as Sportsmans), FSU coaches Jamie Schumacher and Thomas Rogish and an athletic trainer, Michael Sweitzer Jr. The plaintiffs asserted Sheely’s death was preventable.
Kenneth McClain of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain in Independence, represented the couple from Germantown, Maryland. He said the settlement is historic.
“It’s the first time the NCAA has been found to have a duty in regards to a student attending a member institution,” he said. “That was of great significance and forced them to pay. We were pleased to set that kind of precedent.”
McClain said the Sheelys faced a number of difficulties with their suit in Maryland. For one, the state has a $2 million cap on damages. It also has a difficult contributory fault bar.
“If an individual is more than one percent at fault, they can’t recover at all,” McClain said. “It’s a very difficult state to achieve this kind of result in.”
He noted the significance of the settlement’s nonmonetary terms, also.
The parties agreed to sponsor and fund a symposium in honor of Sheely in conjunction with the Derek Sheely Foundation to focus on the reduction of catastrophic risk to student athletes or other similar topics, establish a foundation fundraiser and fund a full-tuition scholarship in Sheely’s name.
The university agreed to retire Sheely’s number and display it on campus.
The NCAA also agreed to make a research award in conjunction with FSU towards a project dealing with catastrophic risk and that it will continue to discuss with its member institutions policies on concussion guideline enforcement and train coaches and trainers on concussion and second-impact syndrome.
The NCAA must also produce a video addressing the risks of head injuries, including second-impact syndrome, according to the terms of the settlement.
Everett C. (Kip) Johnson, of Latham & Watkins, in Washington, D.C., represented the NCAA. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
The case is Sheely, et al. v. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al., 380569V.
Out of State
Venue: Circuit Court for Montgomery County (Maryland)
Case Number/Date: 380569V/Aug. 6, 2016
Judge: David Boynton
Caption: Kristen and Kenneth Sheely v. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, Jamie Schumacher, Thomas Rogish, Michael Sweitzer Jr., Kranos Corp., George L. Heider Inc.
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Kenneth McClain, Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, Independence; Paul D. Anderson, The Klamann Law Firm, Kansas City; Dirk Vandever, Popham Law Firm, Kansas City; Stephen J. Nolan, Baltimore, Maryland
Defendant’s Attorneys: John J. Kuchno and Bradley Neitzel, Assistant Attorneys General, Baltimore, Maryland (Jamie Schumacher, Thomas Rogish and Michael Sweitzer Jr.); C. Scott Toomey and Daniel Kain, Littleton Joyce Ughetta Park & Kelly, Randor, Pennsylvania and Robert D. Klein and Michael S. Rubin, Wharton Levin Ehrmantraut & Klein, Annapolis, Maryland (Kranos); Everett C. (Kip) Johnson, J. Christian Word, Sarah M. Gragert and Sarah Greenfield, Latham & Watkins, Washington, D.C. (NCAA); Ralph Arnsdorf, David M. Story, Franklin & Prokopik, Baltimore, Maryland (Sportsman’s)