Jury finds NCAA not responsible for death of ex-USC LB Matthew Gee – ESPN | Team Cansler

LOS ANGELES — In a ruling that could affect myriad claims by athletes suing sports organizations over head injuries, a Los Angeles jury on Tuesday dismissed a $55 million lawsuit filed by the widow of a former USC soccer player, she said , the NCAA failed to protect him from repeated head injuries that led to his death.

Matthew Gee, a linebacker on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad, suffered an estimated 6,000 hits as a collegiate athlete, his widow’s attorneys said. They claimed these effects caused permanent brain damage and led to cocaine and alcohol use, which eventually killed him at the age of 49.

The NCAA, the governing body of US collegiate sports, said it was unrelated to Gee’s death, which was a case of sudden cardiac arrest caused by untreated high blood pressure and acute cocaine toxicity. An NCAA attorney said Gee suffered from many other health conditions unrelated to football, such as cirrhosis of the liver, which eventually killed him.

Hundreds of wrongful death and assault lawsuits have been filed against the NCAA by college football players over the past decade, but Gee’s was the first to reach a jury. The lawsuit alleged that blows to the head led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disorder known by the acronym CTE.

Judge Terry Green told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury they “made history” in the first case of its kind.

“We are pleased that after four weeks of reviewing evidence and testimony, the jury overwhelmingly agreed with our position in this case,” said Scott Bearby, NCAA senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, in a statement. “The NCAA bore no responsibility for Mr. Gee’s tragic death, nor was the case supported by the medical science that linked Mr. Gee’s death to his college football career. We extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Gee’s family.”

The statement also said the organization “will continue to aggressively defend itself against cases that falsely seek to exploit the legal system to unfairly attack the NCAA.”

The ruling likely gives the NCAA more leverage in future cases, said Dan Lust, a sports law attorney and professor at New York Law School.

“Any plaintiff’s attorney will think twice before he puts all the chips on the table and shoves them in the middle and says, ‘We’re going to take our case to court and see what happens,'” Lust said.

Alana Gee choked as the verdict was read and then had tears in her eyes. She told one of her attorneys that she did not understand how the jury came to the decision, but personally thanked the seven women and five men on the panel as they exited the courtroom. She declined to comment afterwards.

Gabe Feldman, a professor of sports law at Tulane University, said proving Gee died specifically from unseen injuries he sustained at USC — and not something that occurred before or after his college career — is always one challenge, especially when he had so many other health problems.

This was further complicated by the NCAA arguing that they did what was best for safety with the information they had at the time and that the players were taking the risks of an inherently dangerous sport.

“Given the NCAA’s unpopularity and a sympathetic plaintiff, and the jury still ruled against the plaintiff, that’s pretty telling,” Feldman said, leading a case that could potentially guide hundreds or thousands of other plaintiffs.”

The jury had to vote by a minimum of 9-3 to reach a verdict on questions involving whether the NCAA did or did not do something that increased the risks to Gee and whether it did not take any action that would have minimized the risks for Gee without changing the sport of football. The panel voted 11-1 and 10-2 in favor of the NCAA on those questions.

“We have deep sympathy for the Gee family from the beginning,” said NCAA Attorney Will Stute in the circumstances of Matthew Gee’s failure to support causality.”

Stute had argued that medical evidence is not clear on what causes CTE and the implications of this disease.

Lawyers for Gee said CTE, which occurs in athletes and military veterans who suffer repeat brain injuries, is an indirect cause of death because head trauma has been shown to promote drug abuse.

Alana Gee had testified that the college sweethearts had spent 20 good years in marriage before her husband’s mental health began to decline and he became angry, depressed and impulsive and began to overeat and abuse drugs and alcohol.

The NCAA said the case depended on what it knew at the time Gee played from 1988 to 1992 and not CTE, which was first discovered in the brain of a deceased NFL player in 2005.

Gee has never reported having a concussion and said in an application to play for the Raiders after he graduated that he was never knocked unconscious, Stute said.

“You can’t blame the NCAA 40 years later for something that nobody has ever reported on,” Stute said in his closing argument. “The plaintiffs want you in a time travel machine. We don’t have any in the NCAA. That’s not fair.”

Attorneys for Gee’s family said Matt Gee undoubtedly suffered concussions and countless beatings.

Mike Salmon, a teammate who later played in the NFL, testified that Gee, who was team captain his senior year, was once so dazed from a hit that he couldn’t call the next game.

Gee was one of five linebackers on the 1989 Trojans team to die before the age of 50. All showed signs of mental deterioration related to head trauma.

Like teammate and NFL star Junior Seau, who took his own life in 2012, Gee’s brain was posthumously examined at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center and diagnosed with CTE.

The jury was not allowed to hear testimony about Gee’s deceased teammates.

Alana Gee’s attorneys had argued that the NCAA, established in 1906 to keep athletes safe, had known about the effects of head injuries since the 1930s but had failed to educate players, ban headfirst contact, or provide basic testing to perform for concussion symptoms.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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