Widow of Notre Dame Football Player Hopeful for CTE Suit to Stand

As we have previously covered, the wife of former Notre Dame football player, Steven Schmitz, filed a lawsuit targeting Notre Dame and the NCAA in 2014 on behalf of her late husband. She is seeking to recover for the college and organization’s alleged “reckless disregard” for the safety of college football players, specifically during the time period that Schmitz spent playing for the team in the 1970s, which led to his diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 2012, and his ultimate passing in 2015.

The latest developments in the case involve bolstering the theory that offers an exception to the statute of limitations — the discovery rule. The theory provides that where an injury manifests itself after the time of the conduct leading to the injury, the otherwise time-barred claim may be allowed to move forward. As such a decades-delayed CTE claim is a matter of first impression for the Ohio Supreme Court, it will be tasked with determining whether the discovery rule will be applicable in the context of a sports-related injury.

Because the former player’s injuries were sustained almost 40 years before the action was brought, the NCAA and Notre Dame each contend the statute of limitations has expired. Counsel for Notre Dame, a former football player for the school, argues that Schmitz’s injuries manifested at the time of the conduct, even if not in full display. Counsel for the player and his family, however, maintain that the latent nature of the disease makes it nearly impossible to bring a claim until the damage fully manifests, which, they argue, occurred at his 2012 diagnosis. They further argue that an awareness of any “dings” to the head resulting in temporary disorientation is not equivalent to an awareness of CTE.

Although a previous court already determined that the statute of limitations had run, the Ohio Supreme Court may acknowledge the discovery rule and decide otherwise.

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