NCAA not liable for dying of ex-USC linebacker Matt Gee

A jury dominated Tuesday that the NCAA is to not blame for the dying of former USC linebacker Matthew Gee, a choice that might have broad implications in quite a few different circumstances lined up towards the governing physique of school athletics.

Gee’s attorneys couldn’t persuade the jury in Los Angeles Superior Court docket that the NCAA failed to guard him from repetitive head trauma that led to his dying, which was dominated by the coroner to be brought on by cardiac arrest and that acute alcohol and cocaine toxicity have been contributing elements. Jurors, who deliberated solely at some point earlier than rendering their verdict, didn’t consider power traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) led to Gee’s dying or that the NCAA was negligent in failing to tell Gee of the dangers of repetitive head trauma.

Gee died in his sleep at age 49 at his Simi Valley house Dec. 31, 2018. Alana Gee, his widow, sought $54.8 million in damages for wrongful dying and lack of her husband’s companionship based mostly on her husband’s life expectancy.

The case was the primary through which a jury determined whether or not hits to the pinnacle in faculty soccer led to CTE and dying. A 2018 case in Texas made it to trial however led to a settlement after a number of days of testimony.

Different circumstances have been settled earlier than trial and, in response to specialists, many extra are being ready by plaintiffs who consider the NCAA must be held accountable for the repetitive mind trauma they or members of the family suffered whereas enjoying faculty soccer.

“We’re gratified that the jury, after contemplating 4 weeks of proof and testimony, agreed overwhelmingly with our place on this case,” Scott Bearby, NCAA senior vice chairman of authorized affairs and common counsel, mentioned in an announcement. “The NCAA bore no duty for Mr. Gee’s tragic dying, and moreover, the case was not supported by medical science linking Mr. Gee’s dying to his faculty soccer profession. We specific our deepest sympathies to Mr. Gee’s household.”

A CTE knowledgeable who requested anonymity mentioned the Gee verdict “doesn’t imply the door is closed for future circumstances, nevertheless it does imply the bar is larger. . . . There are way more highly effective circumstances on the market.”

Gee’s case was difficult by the myriad well being points that NCAA knowledgeable witnesses mentioned induced or contributed to his poor decline and dying.

Testimony established that Gee had extreme, untreated hypertension since 1991. He additionally had coronary artery illness that led to the cardiac arrest, together with documented ventricular arrhythmias. His coronary heart was enlarged. He had superior liver illness, untreated sleep apnea and was overweight.

Gee suffered from Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome (KTS), a uncommon congenital malformation involving blood and lymph vessels and irregular progress of soppy and bone tissue. KTS is extraordinarily painful and, in response to testimony, Gee a number of years earlier than he died requested a health care provider to chop off his left foot as a result of he couldn’t stand the ache.

Testimony from Gee’s household and buddies established that as his habits deteriorated, he went from being a loving, steady husband, father and supplier to somebody given to impaired judgment, aggression, confusion and despair. The plaintiff’s specialists testified that the signs have been brought on by CTE.

The protection countered by describing Gee’s hepatic encephalopathy, a nervous system dysfunction introduced on by extreme liver illness that elicits signs much like these triggered by CTE.

“That’s what Mr. Gee had,” NCAA lawyer Will Stute mentioned throughout closing arguments. “. . . Shortened consideration span, weird habits, inappropriate habits, muscular incoordination. … Tremors, slurred speech, issue with focus. … The liver stops working and the mind is full of confusion.”

Stute pointed to testimony from Alana Gee that her husband improved when he took treatment for hepatic encephalopathy.

“CTE is meant to be an unrelenting degenerative situation. There isn’t a getting higher,” Stute mentioned. “The truth that he bought higher is critical as a result of it’s not in keeping with CTE inflicting these signs.”

Gee performed linebacker for USC from 1989 to 1992 and led the crew in tackles his junior and senior seasons. He was minimize from coaching camp by the Oakland Raiders the next 12 months after signing as an undrafted free agent and didn’t play within the NFL.

Gee and his future spouse met whereas each have been faculty college students, married and settled in Northridge. They’d three youngsters and Gee constructed a profitable insurance coverage enterprise. They finally moved to Simi Valley.

Gee is certainly one of 5 linebackers from the 1989 USC crew to die earlier than age 50. The others are Junior Seau, Scott Ross, Alan Wilson and David Webb. Seau, a 12-time Professional Bowl choice with the San Diego Chargers, and Ross died by suicide. All displayed behavioral and temper signs related to repetitive mind trauma and CTE. Nonetheless, testimony concerning the dying of Gee’s teammates was not allowed on the trial.

No proof was introduced to show that Gee suffered a concussion at USC — or another time. His dad and mom testified that they don’t recall him having a concussion enjoying youth or highschool soccer. They — and Alana Gee — testified that Matt by no means mentioned he suffered a concussion whereas at USC. And earlier than a tryout with the Raiders, Gee stuffed out a kind that requested if he’d had a concussion. He checked “No.”

The one proof that Gee suffered concussions was anecdotal. USC linebackers coach Tom Roggeman, who served as a Marine in Korea, was described as a taskmaster who relished hitting drills in follow. Former USC teammate Mike Salmon, brother of longtime Angels outfielder Tim Salmon, recalled Gee’s mind-set throughout practices and video games.

Alana Gee, left, walks out of court docket Oct. 21 together with her daughter, Malia. Gee misplaced a lawsuit Tuesday that sought to seek out the NCAA liable for the dying of her husband, former USC soccer participant Matt Gee.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Related Press)

“Matt hit like a truck,” Salmon testified. “I noticed him fairly a bit coming again to the huddle. You would inform … he wasn’t all there.”

Stute tried to distance the NCAA from duty for disseminating details about CTE and protocols pertaining to coping with concussions by asserting that its member faculties have been accountable — not the governing physique. USC was not named as a defendant in Gee’s lawsuit.

Some NCAA witnesses, together with former longtime UCLA crew doctor James Puffer, disputed that concussions result in CTE. He testified that he doesn’t consider NCAA and even faculty officers should alert gamers to the danger of growing CTE.

“We don’t know with certainty this present day that enjoying intercollegiate soccer irrefutably ends in you growing CTE, or that enjoying intercollegiate soccer can result in neurodegenerative illness,” Puffer advised the jury.

“The NCAA continues to actively improve participant security in collegiate athletics in its position as an athletic affiliation,” Bearby mentioned. “Whereas the NCAA is just not a medical physique, it’s on the forefront of funding the most important, impartial research on the pure historical past of concussions in sports activities similar to soccer. The NCAA is pleased with its lengthy observe file of working to make sports activities safer in its position as an athletic affiliation and can proceed to aggressively defend towards circumstances like this that wrongly attempt to exploit the authorized system to unfairly goal the NCAA.”

Gee’s attorneys referred to as a number of distinguished knowledgeable witnesses, together with Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgery specialist who’s the medical director for the Nationwide Heart for Sports activities Damage Analysis and co-director of the Heart for the Examine of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston College.

Cantu testified that Gee suffered from and finally died from CTE and that enjoying faculty soccer was a considerable contributing consider his dying. Gee’s mind was examined by the UNITE Mind Financial institution at Boston College, which decided he suffered from Stage 2 CTE. 4 progressive levels of CTE have been recognized, with Stage 4 being probably the most extreme.

“I consider a considerable contributing issue to his habit was the CTE,” Cantu testified. “The CTE, I consider, was as a result of trauma that his mind took whereas enjoying soccer, predominantly — not solely, however predominantly — on the faculty stage. I consider the CTE is what induced him to not have the ability to higher handle his habit.”

Cantu identified that the Nationwide Institute Neurological Problems and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the Nationwide Institutes of Well being (NIH), in October formally acknowledged publicly for the primary time that CTE is brought on by repetitive traumatic mind accidents. Attorneys for Alana Gee estimated that Matt Gee endured about 6,000 hits throughout his four-year USC profession.

Proof was introduced that the NCAA might need intentionally destroyed paperwork that established the governing physique knew extra concerning the risks of repetitive head damage and concussions to soccer gamers a lot sooner than said. Stephen Casper, a professor and knowledgeable on traumatic mind accidents and concussions, testified that NCAA-produced journals from 1933 by 1966 are lacking from the NCAA publications library, and that lots of the journals embody articles on what the NCAA had discovered concerning the matter and beneficial to curtail the injury.

A lot of the testimony from Gee’s knowledgeable witnesses sought to determine that the NCAA had details about the opposed results of concussions for many years that was not shared expediently with member faculties or gamers. Though the jury dominated that Gee’s dying was not the duty of the NCAA, some specialists consider the case established a basis of alleged negligence that future circumstances can draw on.

The NCAA possible would name the identical knowledgeable witnesses it did within the Gee case, and future plaintiffs would have an concept of their recreation plan.

NCAA witnesses “will testify the identical factor from one case to a different case,” mentioned an knowledgeable who requested anonymity. “This type of litigation is at its infancy, and whereas this jury decided there was not clear-cut causation, the subsequent one would possibly.”