A former Cal football player filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA and the Pac-12 conference Thursday for an alleged “reckless disregard for the health and safety” of generations of Cal student-athletes suffering from concussion-related injuries.
The lawsuit alleges that the NCAA and Pac-12 “breached their duties” to student-athletes by not informing them about the dangers of concussions and historically failing to implement reasonable concussion protocols for decades until 2010.
“Since the inception of the Berkeley’s football program, through at least 2010, there were no adequate concussion management protocols or policies of any kind in place at Berkeley to address and treat concussions sustained by student-athletes during practices or in games,” the lawsuit alleges.
Neville Hawkins, who played for the Cal football team from 1970 to 1971, is one of the plaintiffs in the suit. The allegations come as part of a wave of new filings related to concussion injuries in federal courts around the country. Even before this influx of lawsuits, Edelson PC — the prosecuting law firm — had filed 15 similar lawsuits starting in May, bringing the total number filed by the firm regarding this issue to 24. These cases are all in the process of being consolidated to be overseen by a single judge in a federal court in Chicago.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus could not comment on the lawsuit. In addition, Pac-12’s Vice President of Communications Dave Hirsch also said the conference had no comment on the lawsuit.
There could be dozens more lawsuits filed against the NCAA and its member conferences, according to Chris Dore, an attorney for Edelson PC. Additionally, schools can also be sued as defendants when they are private colleges.
The lawsuit’s main allegation is that the Pac-12 and the NCAA hid from the public and from their players what the lawsuit alleges is “an epidemic that was slowly killing their athletes.”
“As a direct result of Defendants’ actions (or lack thereof), Plaintiff and a Class of former players … now suffer from neurological and cognitive damage, including symptoms of traumatic encephalopathy,” the lawsuit alleges.
Hawkins, who suffered multiple concussions as a player for Cal, suffers from early onset dementia.
Dore stressed that the prosecution will look to work with the defendants to reach a settlement and avoid going to trial.
“We’re hopeful that the NCAA and the conferences and the schools are interested in helping these individuals sooner,” Dore said. “If this stretches out for years, it’s years of time that they are not getting the help and resources that they need.”
In addition to compensation, Dore said, the prosecution will also be looking to ensure that positive concussion policy changes made since 2010 continue, expand and have the requisite amount of oversight.
“The policies that have come into play starting around 2010 are a significant step forward,” Dore said. “Those are a big benefit to student-athletes. We would want to ensure that those are the best policies that can be, and likewise, we want to ensure mechanisms to see that they are being enforced.”