CLEVELAND (AP) — A state appeals court in Cleveland has ruled that the widow of a former Notre Dame football player can proceed with claims in a lawsuit that said her husband was disabled by and ultimately died from concussion-related head injuries suffered during his college career in the 1970s.
Steve Schmitz was alive but suffering from dementia and early onset Alzheimer's disease when he and his wife, Yvette, sued the NCAA and the university in Cuyahoga County in October 2014. The lawsuit alleged both institutions had shown "reckless disregard" for the safety of college football players and for their failure to educate and protect players from concussions.
The lawsuit said the link between repeated blows to the head and brain-related injuries and illnesses had been known for decades, but it wasn't until 2010 that the NCAA required colleges to formulate concussion protocols to remove an athlete from a game or practice and be evaluated by doctors if there were signs of a concussion.
Records show Schmitz, a standout at St. Edward High School in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, was a kick returner, running back and wide receiver for Notre Dame from 1974 to 1977.
The lawsuit said Schmitz was diagnosed by the Cleveland Clinic in 2012 with a latent brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, and suffered from severe memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer's. Schmitz died in February 2015 at a hospice. He was 59.
David Langfitt, one of Yvette Schmitz's attorneys, told The Associated Press on Tuesday there's no way to know many concussions Schmitz suffered at Notre Dame, but said it undoubtedly was many.
"We do know that CTE has only one cause and that's repetitive head impacts of any kind," Langfitt said.
A Cuyahoga County judge dismissed all the lawsuit's claims in September 2015. The 8th District Court of Appeals ruled last week that the judge erred in dismissing claims of negligence, fraud and loss of consortium against the NCAA and Notre Dame and a second fraud claim against Notre Dame.
An attorney representing Notre Dame declined to comment when asked if an appeal was planned.
Concussions and their effect on the brain have received considerable attention in recent years as researchers concluded there is a link between CTE and Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and dementia. The NFL announced Monday that it would begin paying former players in the next few months from the league's $1 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed two pending challenges.
A number of class-action lawsuits have been filed this year against the NCAA and universities by former players over the handling of concussions by schools during their collegiate careers.