By TIM SCHWARTZ
Capital News Service
A Montgomery County judge this week declined to dismiss a lawsuit against a helmet manufacturer in a case brought by the parents of a Frostburg State University football player from Germantown who died of head injuries in August 2011 following four straight days of heavy contact drills in practice.
The parents of Derek Sheely, who was 22 when he died, sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Frostburg’s then-head football coach Thomas Rogish, an assistant coach and an assistant athletic trainer, and several companies that manufacture and distribute helmets.
Kristen and Kenneth Sheely of Germantown allege negligence by university officials and the NCAA, and negligent misrepresentation by helmet manufacturers and distributors.
Tuesday’s motions hearing focused on charges against Schutt Sports, which was bought by Kranos Corp. in 2010. Schutt Sports designs and manufactures football helmets, including the one used in Sheely’s last practice drills in 2011, the parents’ complaint says.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David Alan Boynton denied a motion to dismiss the suit against Schutt Sports.
The parents allege their son was improperly fitted for a Schutt football helmet days before his death and that “a representative and agent for Schutt Sports and/or Sportsman’s,” a helmet distributor, told the football team that “Schutt’s new technology can prevent head injuries.”
Lawyers for Kranos Corp. stated in a written response that Derek Sheely did not encounter the allegedly improper marketing of the helmet, and that no Maryland appellate court has ever recognized a cause of action for negligent marketing.
Tuesday’s hearing followed one on Feb. 21, when some charges against Schutt Sports were dismissed by Boynton.
An amended complaint from the parents brought additional allegations, which stand after Tuesday’s hearing. Kranos Corp., doing business as Schutt Sports, and Heider Inc., doing business as Sportsman’s, face accusations of negligence, negligent misrepresentation, liability for design and manufacturing defects, and fraudulent misrepresentation, among others, court records show.
Lawyers representing Kranos, Heider and the three university officials declined to comment after Tuesday’s hearing.
The NCAA asserted in an earlier filing that injuries sustained by Sheely were caused by his “sole, concurring, and/or contributory negligence,” and that he assumed risks inherent in football.
According to the parents’ complaint, on the morning of Aug. 19, 2011, Sheely took part in a drill in which he, as a fullback, collided at full speed with a linebacker from about six to 10 yards away. Sheely’s parents allege he suffered many concussive or subconcussive hits over the course of that day’s drills and on three practice days that followed.
The complaint says Sheely, who had been diagnosed with a concussion the previous season, performed the drill again on Aug. 20, this time causing his forehead to bleed profusely and bruise. He was given a bandage by the training staff, but was not evaluated for a concussion, the complaint says.
Teammates were quoted in the complaint as saying they had never seen such a large, protruding and discolored bruise as they observed in the days leading up to Sheely’s death.
The complaint says that on the morning of Aug. 21, a third day of practice, Sheely went through the drill again, which again caused his forehead to bleed. After practice, his teammates noticed Sheely appeared to “not be himself.”
The drill was repeated again after lunch and Sheely’s forehead bled again. He was given a bandage by a member of the training staff, but again was not evaluated for a concussion or to determine if his helmet was fitted properly, the complaint says. He practiced again for another two hours.
The complaint says that on Aug. 22, despite two players suffering concussions during the same drill earlier in the week, the drill continued.
After one play on another drill, in which full-speed contact was required, Sheely told Assistant Coach Jamie Schumacher that he “didn’t feel right” and that he had a “headache,” the complaint says.
Sheely was not removed from the practice, the complaint says, and Schumacher yelled at him to keep going. During a drill, Sheely was involved in a “relatively unremarkable” collision with a defensive back, according to the complaint. Sheely collapsed on the sidelines within a few minutes of the collision. He never regained consciousness.
The complaint says Sheely suffered from second-impact syndrome, which occurs when the brain swells rapidly after a person suffers a second concussion before symptoms from an earlier one have subsided.
Sheely was airlifted to a hospital, where doctors performed an emergency procedure to relieve pressure on the brain. He was in a coma for six days before he died.