Cyclists’ Suit Can Continue, but Scientific Testimony Will Be Scrutinized

Jun 16, 2006

A federal judge in the District of Colorado has denied USA Cycling, Inc.’s motion to dismiss the claims of two former junior cyclists, who allege that the USAC was negligent when they hired and allowed a former coach to administer steroids to the cyclists in the early 1990s.
In ruling against the motion, the court found that there was “a genuine issue of material fact” as to when the plaintiffs should have concluded that the coach had allegedly administered steroids.
At the same time, the court scheduled a debate over the summer that will scrutinize the proposed scientific testimony introduced by the plaintiffs, which purports to tie the steroids they allegedly took to several current maladies that the plaintiffs suffer. “I am concerned much of the plaintiffs’ evidence will fail to withstand Daubert scrutiny,” wrote the court in citing Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993).
Initially, the court reviewed the circumstance that led to the disputed actions. Strock and Kaiter were both members of the United States’ junior cycling team in early 1990, which was operated by the defendant, USA Cycling, Inc., and coached by the individual defendant, Rene Wenzel.
The plaintiffs alleged that later that year Wenzel gave them a substance that he claimed was safe. They further claimed that they learned almost a decade after the fact that the substance was a steroid. In the intervening period, the two men experienced various maladies, which they claim ended their elite cycling careers and was instigated by the steroid.
Strock maintained that he learned that he had been given a steroid while taking a pharmacology class at Indiana University’s medical school. There, he claimed he learned that there was no such thing as “extract of cortisone,” which is what Wenzel allegedly gave him in 1990.
“Strock insists this was the first time he had reason to believe he had been administered steroids by USAC coaching staff,” wrote the court. “Strock discussed the alleged doping in a nationally televised interview in September 2000. Kaiter contends this was the first time he learned that he, too, may unwittingly have been administered steroids. Strock filed suit on November 17, 2000, and Kaiter followed on December 18, 2001.”
The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the statute of limitations and that they cannot demonstrate their claims were caused by the defendants’ actions.
With regard to the statute of limitations, the defendants argued in their motion that the plaintiffs “knew, or should have known, the cause of their injuries more than three years before filing their claims.” Specifically, they suggested Strock knew steroids caused his injuries as early as October 1996 when he allegedly admitted to his psychiatrist he had been given steroids by his USAC coaches. He also should have known, they argued, when he learned of a rumor that Wenzel had been doping Junior National Team cyclists. Similarly, the defendants made a case that Kaiter should have known he had been given steroids.
Defendants’ Fiduciary Duty Could Aid Plaintiffs
Both plaintiffs countered those arguments, and then introduced an interesting twist. “Strock and Kaiter both claim,” wrote the court, “(that) they were under a reduced duty of diligence to discover the cause of their injuries because Defendants had a fiduciary responsibility to care for them.”
The court found the latter point to be relevant, noting that “where a fiduciary relationship exists between the plaintiff and the defendant, however, the plaintiff’s expected level of diligence in discovering an injury and its cause is relaxed. Lucas v. Abbott, 198 Colo. 477, 481, 601 P.2d 1376, 1379 (1979).” And such decisions about whether a fiduciary relationship exists are normally left to the factfinder, it added.
“Due to the material factual dispute concerning the existence of a fiduciary relationship, it is impossible to know whether I must view the accrual evidence under a relaxed standard of reasonable diligence,” wrote the court in denying the defendants’ motion on the statute of limitations.
Next, the court turned to causation and the defendants’ contention that Strock and Kaiter had failed to present sufficient evidence connecting the alleged actions to the injuries.
While acknowledging that Strock’s evidence “is insufficiently probative,” the court wrote that it was required to view the “evidence in the light most favorable to Strock” and that “a reasonable jury could find the steroids the defendants allegedly gave him probably caused his injuries. Accordingly, Strock has met his burden of demonstrating a genuine issue for trial on causation.”
Similarly, the court denied the defendants’ motion, which alleged that steroid did not cause Kaiter’s lung condition. However, the court did provide some relief regarding an alleged connection between steroid use of Kaiter’s Crohn’s Colitis. It granted the defendants’ motion as to a connection to that particular malady.
Gregory A. Strock v. USA Cycling, INC. et al.; D.Colo.; Civil Action No. 00-cv-2285-JLK, Civil Action Nos. 01-cv-2444-JLK; 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41840; 5/8/06
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) John W. McKendree, John W. McKendree, LLC. Law, Offices of, Denver, CO; John Kenneth Pineau, John Kenneth Pineau, Law Offices, of, P.C., Boulder, CO. (for defendants) Peter J. Morgan, Baldwin & Carpenter, PC, Denver, CO; Reid Browne Kelly, Kelly Law Firm, LLC, Pagosa Springs, CO; William Lee Senter, Senter, Goldfarb & Rice, LLC, Denver, CO.


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