Former University of Texas football player Julius Whitter has filed a class action lawsuit for up to $50 million against the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He claims the head trauma he was unwittingly exposed to during his time as a college athlete caused his Alzheimer's disease.
Whittier, who lives in Plano, Texas and was the first African-American player on the Texas team, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. He argues that the NCAA breached its duty to protect college football players by failing to warn them of the risks of head impacts.
Whitter says he suffered repeated head injuries during his college football career. The plaintiff seeks compensation to cover his medical bills.
Who's responsible when a student gets injured?
Sports injuries aren't just for professionals. Each year, thousands of people are injured in high school sports, college programs and even pickup games on campus. While injured pro athletes usually receive pay while recovering from impact injuries, the rest of us have to contend with missed days of school and work, medical bills, a painful recovery and potential lifelong problems.
Most school sport injuries are accidental and occur without negligence. When players voluntarily engage in a sport, they know - or should know - that the possibility of injury exists. It goes with the territory. The law calls it Assumption Of the Risk.
However, there are exceptions. If the injury wasn't inherent or expected, students are entitled to compensation. For example, if a student trips over a sprinkler head that shouldn't have been out while the game was going on, that student was exposed to an unforeseen risk and is no longer burdened with the assumption of risk.
How are Texas schools and the NCAA handling student injuries?
Since 2005, the NCAA has required athletes to carry insurance for athletically-related injuries before they can compete. The insurance can come from the school, a parent or an athlete's personal policy, and must cover up to the $90,000 deductible of the NCAA catastrophic injury insurance program.
The NCAA says this rule protects athletes from unexpected medical expenses and eliminates misconceptions about the university's responsibility. It also protects schools from lawsuits because covered athletes are less likely to sue when expenses are paid by some form of insurance, the NCAA says.
In Texas, the laws are changing too. Last year, the Legislature passed House Bill 2038, also known as Natasha's Law, that requires training for coaches and athletic trainers on how to react when players sustain concussions.
Under the previous rules, a coach could put students back into a practice or a game if they were symptom-free for 15 minutes. Now, a physician has to give clearance before athletes in any sport can return to the field. Although Natasha’s Law applies only to public schools, some private schools and club leagues have also adopted it.