WASHINGTON — A lawsuit stemming from the head-injury death of a Frostburg State University football player should be dismissed because his coaches did not know the athlete was bleeding or had suffered a concussion and could not have foreseen that he was endangering his life by participating in practice drills, lawyers say.
The lawyers also say Derek Sheely, a 22-year-old honor student, knowingly participated in a violent sport.
Sheely died in August 2011 after taking part in “gladiatorial” high-speed drills that caused players to suffer repeated blows to the head, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family. The complaint says Sheely returned to the field despite bleeding from his forehead during practice sessions and was never checked for a concussion or to see if his helmet was properly fitted.
The team’s then-coach, an assistant coach and an assistant athletic trainer are among the defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed last summer. The NCAA, which was also sued, said in a statement last summer that it disagreed with the lawsuit’s allegations.
Lawyers from the Maryland attorney general’s office, which represents the men, have asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, as has helmet-making company Kranos Corporation — which does business as Schutt Sports. The company says among other things that the required helmet label warned that the helmet could not prevent all head injuries and that there’s no evidence of any manufacturing defect.
A judge in Montgomery County, Md., is expected to hear arguments on Friday.
The lawsuit says that Sheely, after having his forehead bandaged for several days, told an assistant coach he “didn’t feel right” and had a headache on Aug. 22, 2011. The senior fullback walked off the field and collapsed, lapsing into a coma before he died six days later, according to the complaint.
Defense lawyers say the lawsuit fails to show the two coaches knew Sheely was bleeding or had suffered a concussion. They also deny that the trainer did anything wrong by bandaging Sheely’s forehead and sending him back into practice after Sheely did not complain of any symptoms of a concussion. People can complain of headaches and not feeling well “for reasons that have nothing to do with physical activity or injury,” the lawyers wrote.
Sheely’s family says he had played football at the pee wee, high school and college levels — something defense lawyers noted.
“Derek Sheely’s death was tragic because he was young, but it came while participating voluntarily in an inherently violent sport — helmets that prevent head injuries are necessary equipment for participation — whose dangers were obvious to Mr. Sheely as someone who had played football for years and had allegedly suffered a concussion the previous season,” the lawyers wrote.
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