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Jury Finds NCAA Not Liable For Death of Former USC Football Player

  • On Tuesday, a jury found the NCAA not liable for the death of former USC linebacker Matthew Gee.
  • The ruling is the first related to the NCAA’s culpability with head injuries, and has major long-term implications for the NCAA.
USC

On Tuesday, a jury found the NCAA not liable for the death of former USC linebacker Matthew Gee, who died in 2018 and was posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

The questions the jury considered were related to whether the NCAA unreasonably increased the risks to Gee, and whether the NCAA unreasonably failed to minimize the risk to Gee. To both, the majority of jurors said no.

Matt Gee’s widow, Alana Gee, sued the NCAA on his behalf. Her lawyers asked the jury to award her family $1.8 million in economic damages, as well as $53 million in non-economic damages. She’ll receive nothing.

The case, which began on Oct. 21 and was tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, is the first in the country to provide a ruling on the NCAA’s culpability with head injuries. It has major long-term implications for the NCAA. 

The governing body can now hold up a ruling suggesting that it is not responsible for repetitive head injuries suffered by football players — a precedent that could help it shirk responsibility for multiple current and future cases.

The ruling also suggests the NCAA is not necessarily legally responsible for health and safety — and that that responsibility rests with schools, despite the fact that the NCAA itself was created in 1906 to make football a safer sport.

However, one question remains: Would a jury find the NCAA responsible for a player who suffered from CTE more recently?

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Matt Gee played for USC between 1988-92, and went on to run an insurance company after his tenure. Court documents and testimony alleged that his humorous, kind, and generous demeanor began to change in the years leading up to his death. Gee died suddenly on Dec. 31, 2018 and had traces of alcohol in his blood despite being sober.

Two years later, Alana Gee sued the NCAA, alleging that CTE was a major cause of his death. She claimed that the NCAA was aware of the potential long-term effects of repeated head injuries, but that it was negligent in warning and protecting players from them.

The NCAA denied these claims at every turn. At trial, it argued that CTE was not a major cause of Matt Gee’s death — offering expert testimony that the cause was actually related to health issues born from substance use disorder. It also suggested that schools are responsible for the health and safety of athletes, rather than the NCAA. 

But after four weeks of testimony — which featured a star-studded cast of witnesses — the jury disagreed with Alana.

In a statement, the NCAA said it was “gratified” by the verdict. “The NCAA bore no responsibility for Mr. Gee’s tragic death, and furthermore, the case was not supported by medical science linking Mr. Gee’s death to his college football career.” The governing body added that it is currently funding the “largest, independent study on the natural history of concussions in sports such as football.”

The governing body “will continue to aggressively defend against cases like this that wrongly try to exploit the legal system to unfairly target the NCAA.”

The lawyers for Alana Gee did not immediately provide a comment.

Editor’s Note: Reporting of Gee v. NCAA was assisted by Courtroom View Network, which provided a livestream of the trial.

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