NCAA Picks Up Key Win in Onyshko Concussion Case; Experts Weigh In

Jun 7, 2019

A Washington County, Pennsylvania jury returned a verdict for the National Collegiate Athletic Association on May 23, dealing a crushing blow to Matthew Onyshko and his family, which had alleged that the NCAA was negligent when it failed to protect Onyshko from the multiple concussions he suffered as a football player at California University of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs had argued that the concussions led to a 2008 diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
Specifically, the jury decided by a 10-2 margin that the collegiate sports governing body was not at fault.
By way of background, the case arises from a lawsuit filed by former college football player, Matt Onyshko, who played at the California University of Pennsylvania between 1999-2003. In 2013, he filed a claim against the NCAA asserting that the NCAA failed to “adequately supervise, regulate, and minimize the risk of long-term brain injury.
“The NCAA, as it has done repeatedly in litigation, argued that it did not ‘owe a legal duty’ to protect the health and safety of student-athletes. Instead, the NCAA claimed, this duty resides with the member schools. The NCAA doubled down on this assertion and stated that it ‘lacks the enforcement mechanisms to implement legislation over its member institutions.’”
Onyshko’s attorney, Eugene Egdorf of Shrader & Associates, told the media that his clients “fully plan to appeal. Moreover, when Mr. Onyshko passes away, under Pennsylvania law, we can refile the case as a wrongful death case. We intend to do that as well.” He also told the media that there are “a number of issues and things we were precluded from doing in this trial that we think would have made a difference in the verdict.”
On the other side of the aisle, some prominent concussion defense lawyers saw great “significance” in the ruling.
“The significance of this verdict can’t be overstated,” said Anthony Corleto of Wilson Elser. “The jury found in NCAA’s favor after considering the first question on the verdict sheet: ‘Was NCAA negligent?’ This means plaintiff failed to prove his claim that the governing body failed to adequately supervise and minimize the risk of long-term brain injuries and repeated head impacts. The court had previously denied NCAA’s motion for summary judgment on this point, an unfortunately common intermediate ruling in these cases. It is also worth noting that the physician who claims to have discovered a link between football and CTE, Dr. Bennett Omalu, was plaintiff’s expert. This outcome bodes well for NCAA and the institution defendants in the Northern District of Illinois multi district litigation.”
Dylan Henry, an associate at Montgomery McCracken, added that “the Onyshko jury verdict is groundbreaking because it provides insight into how a jury may come out in future sports-related head injury lawsuits. Of course, every jury (and case) is different. But, with so few jury verdicts for litigants to use as points of reference in cases involving the long term effects of head trauma in sports, the Onyshko jury verdict is a significant one.
“So long as the science in this area remains unsettled, the concrete data points are going to come from these jury verdicts on a case-by-case basis. These jury verdicts won’t resolve any of the issues in the labs, but each jury verdict should provide greater insight to how these cases will resolve in the courts.”


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