Family of Deceased Pro Basketball Player Responds to NBA’s Motion to Dismiss Her Wrongful Death Action

Feb 15, 2019

Jewel Upshaw, the mother of Zeke Upshaw, a 26-year-old professional basketball player for the Detroit Pistons’ Grand Rapids Drive NBA G League team, has responded to the NBA’s motion to dismiss her wrongful death claim.
The incident leading to the lawsuit occurred on March 24, 2018, during the final minutes of the last game of the team’s regular season. Upshaw suddenly collapsed to the floor, unconscious and in full cardiac arrest. The attorneys representing Upshaw, Hilliard Martinez Gonzales LLP (, maintain that for more than five minutes “not a single life-saving measure was taken to address Zeke’s fatal condition. He was kept on life support for two days and then died.”
The lawsuit brings claims of negligence and gross negligence for the wrongful death of Zeke Upshaw against the NBA, the Detroit Pistons Basketball Company and SSJ Group, owners of the Grand Rapids Drive and the Deltaplex Arena where the game was held.
The defendants reportedly moved to dismiss, citing the applicability of Michigan’s Disability Worker’s Compensation Act.
“The NBA seeks to escape liability for Zeke’s death and for Jewel’s independent claims as a mother forced to witness the shocking events that caused Zeke’s death by arguing that all of the claims are barred by Michigan’s Disability Worker’s Compensation Act,” the opposition to the NBA’s motion reads. “Zeke, deprived of oxygen for nearly four minutes on live television and approximately forty-four minutes in toto, ultimately died as a result of Defendants’ conduct . . . . The shocking nature of the NBA’s and others’ conduct and omissions is reflected by the fans’ frantic gestures for someone to help Zeke—help that did not come.”
Robert C. Hilliard, attorney for Plaintiff Jewel Upshaw, said in a statement, “It is insulting how the NBA attempts to dodge liability from their horrific wrongdoing by filing a workers’ compensation claim weeks after Zeke’s death so that it can now falsely argue that the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency has ‘exclusive authority’ over Jewel Upshaw’s claims for her son’s death. The fact of the matter is, Zeke was not ’employed by’ the NBA or the Detroit Pistons — he was employed by Basketball Services Corporation, the entity who contracted for his services, provided for his workers’ compensation coverage, and assigned him to play for the Grand Rapids Drive. Moreover, Jewel’s independent claims for having to watch her son die on live television are certainly not subject to Workers’ Compensation exclusivity, as those claims are unquestionably unique to her.”
The NBA and the Pistons also reportedly assert that, if Upshaw’s claims do go forward, they must be sent to arbitration pursuant to Zeke’s Player Contract. However, Hilliard argues that, “Neither Jewel Upshaw, the NBA, nor the Detroit Pistons were actual parties to the arbitration agreement, and furthermore the agreement is so narrow that even if Zeke had lived past the tragic event and brought claims on his own behalf they would not have been subject to arbitration. Now the NBA and Pistons want to force my client to arbitrate claims she never agreed to arbitrate stemming from an agreement that none of them actually agreed to.”
The case is Upshaw v. NBA et al., No. 2:18-cv-13301-TGB-SDD, pending in the Eastern District of Michigan before Judge Terrence G. Berg.


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