Agreement calls for reforms following student-athlete’s 2010 death
HOUSTON – The family of former University of Mississippi student-athlete Bennie “Buster” Abram has reached a settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Ole Miss, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and others following Mr. Abram’s 2010 sickle-cell related death at the university’s football practice facility.
The settlement negotiated for the family by attorneys from Houston’s The Lanier Law Firm will resolve all claims against Ole Miss and the NCAA, as well as former Ole Miss head football coach Houston Nutt and other defendants.
Mr. Abram, an Ole Miss junior and walk-on defensive back, collapsed and died on the first day of spring practice on Feb. 19, 2010. The Southaven, Miss., native fell unconscious and was treated on the scene by athletic trainers before being taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where he later died. An autopsy revealed that the 20-year-old’s death was caused by complications from sickle cell trait with exertion and a contributing factor of cardiomegaly, an inflammation of the heart.
The Abram family filed the lawsuit in May 2011 based on claims that coaches, trainers and athletic department officials at Ole Miss violated NCAA guidelines covering the intensity of spring practices, particularly for players with the sickle cell trait such as Mr. Abram. The lawsuit also cited the NCAA for failing to implement adequate guidelines for offseason practices and for not sanctioning coaches who violate existing guidelines.
As a result of the settlement, the NCAA has agreed to include updated information and recommendations regarding athletes with sickle cell trait on the NCAA Website and in the NCAA Sports Medical Handbook. In particular, the NCAA will provide “unchallengeable authority” to a school’s sports medicine staff to cancel or modify any workout based on health and safety concerns for the student-athlete. The NCAA will also consider the development of more stringent guidelines in defining “punishment drills” through its Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.
The Abram family sought these measures to help protect other student-athletes with the sickle cell trait, which appears in nearly 10 percent of the African-American population and is less common in other races. Believed to be the leading killer of Division I football players, the condition has been linked to at least nine deaths among college athletes since 2000.
“This settlement is another step in raising awareness of the dangers of sickle cell trait among athletes, and helping prevent tragic deaths such as Buster’s,” says The Lanier Law Firm’s Gene Egdorf, who represents the Abram family along with Merrida “Buddy” Coxwell and Charles R. “Chuck” Mullins of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, in Jackson, Miss. “We are pleased that Ole Miss and the NCAA stepped up and settled this matter in a way that honors Buster’s memory and will help save lives in the future.”
In addition to the NCAA policy changes, the settlement also includes recognition from Ole Miss based on Mr. Abrams’ contributions to the university. The school will establish the Bennie F. Abram III Health and Sports Performance Lecture Series to be presented to Mississippi high school and community college coaches, athletic trainers and other sports medicine personnel to help educate and prevent athletic-related emergencies and deaths.
The university also will award the Bennie F. Abram III Scholarship each year to a student trainer with demonstrated ability and an interest in a career in sports medicine. In addition, the Bennie F. Abram III Academic Achievement Award will be presented annually at the Ole Miss football banquet to the program’s walk-on student-athlete with the highest GPA for the previous term.
The settlement was made public last week in a probate court proceeding that specified payment totaling $50,000 for Mr. Abram's family, funded by the insurer of the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation. Previously, the family was paid $275,000 under an NCAA insurance policy.
Mr. Egdorf and The Lanier Law Firm previously negotiated a landmark 2009 settlement with the NCAA following the death of Rice University student-athlete Dale R. Lloyd II, who also had sickle cell trait. As part of the settlement, the NCAA for the first time recommended that all student-athletes undergo testing for the condition.
Also named as defendants in the Abram lawsuit were the university’s board of trustees, Ole Miss athletic department medical director Dr. Jeffrey Dennis, strength and conditioning coach Don Decker, the UMAA Foundation (the Ole Miss athletic booster club), and Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Miss. The case is Bennie F. Abram Jr., et al. v. Houston Nutt, et al., No. 11-421-CIV, in the Circuit Court for the First Judicial District of Hinds County in Jackson,
With offices in Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, The Lanier Law Firm is committed to addressing client concerns with effective and innovative solutions in courtrooms across the country. The firm is composed of outstanding trial attorneys with decades of experience handling cases involving pharmaceutical liability, asbestos exposure, intellectual property, business litigation, product liability, maritime law, bad faith insurance claims and sports and entertainment law. Visit http://www.lanierlawfirm.com.