Judge Scales Back Discovery in NCAA Wrongful Death Suit
On March 1, 2018, a Texas court of appeals filed a writ of mandamus, partially granting and partially denying the NCAA’s appeal of a prior discovery order. The suit was initiated by Debra Ploetz, wife of former University of Texas football player, Greg Ploetz, who played for the team from 1968 to 1972 and who died in 2015 from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
The wrongful death suit alleges the late athlete’s CTE condition and subsequent death resulted directly from his years spent playing for the team. Specifically, the suit claims that the “NCAA knew or should have known about the long-term dangers to student athletes from concussive and sub-concussive blows to the head, the causal connection between head trauma sustained in college sports and the development of CTE, and the rules procedures, and protocols to prevent head trauma and prevent or slow the progression of CTE.”
In support of her allegations, Ploetz initially “sought discovery of all documents in the NCAA’s possession from 1906 to the present relating to student health and welfare.” The NCAA claimed the discovery requests were overbroad and should be tailored to simply include “documents related to football injuries,” and to CTE and other brain diseases. After Ploetz moved to compel discovery, the trial court ordered the NCAA to render trauma-related documents, but only reaching back to 1950 and spanning to the “ending date of the particular inquiry, including post-career information.” The court also ordered that the scope should allow inquiry into sports other than football, as originally requested.
On appeal, the court said that a “central consideration in determining overbreadth is whether the request could have been more narrowly tailored to avoid including tenuous information and still obtain the necessary, pertinent information.” It noted that discovery can reach outside the scope of the exact scenario into “other products, similar injuries, or similar conditions” without being overbroad. Ultimately, the court ruled partially in favor of the NCAA, limiting the scope of discovery to concussive and sub-concussive head blows which may result in CTE and other brain diseases. Ruling partially in favor of Ploetz, the court further directed the trial court to uphold the temporal scope, determining it was not overbroad, and permit the “types of sports included in the discovery order.”