Pennsylvania Appeals Court Denies NCAA’s Efforts to Appeal Negligence Finding in NCAA Death Suit

The NCAA’s efforts to appeal a Pennsylvania court’s finding that the NCAA was negligent in failing to require Division II schools screen for sickle-cell trait were denied on December 28, 2016. The case arose after Jack Hill Jr., a Slippery Rock University student, died following a high-intensity basketball practice due to sickle-cell trait complications. Jack Jr.’s parents, Jack and Cheryl Hill, filed suit against the University and the NCAA, arguing the university’s failure to administer sickle-trait testing prior to allowing them to participate in athletics and the NCAA’s failure to require Division II schools to do so was negligent.

Initially, the NCAA was dismissed from the suit based on the idea that the applicable “increased risk of harm” tort required an affirmative act, but the PA appeals court disagreed, noting that under PA law an increased risk of harm can occur through a failure to act as well. The court partially relied on a medical questionnaire that asked about the sickle-cell trait, but these responses were never cross checked against medical testing. Therefore, according to the court, Jack Hill could have believed he was of the proper condition to participate in athletics based on the incomplete medical clearance, and it would be reasonable for a fact finder to determine that the NCAA’s mandatory testing at Division I schools and omission to do so at Division II schools was a breach of duty. Pennsylvania’s highest court refused to hear arguments over the ruling that revived the NCAA’s inclusion in the suit.

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