The Ohio Supreme Court allowed a CTE lawsuit brought by a now-deceased Notre Dame football player to move forward, clearing a major statute of limitations hurdle. The ruling opens the door for former football players suffering from long-term brain injuries discovered years after their playing days to overcome initial statute of limitation defenses.
The case was filed in 2014 by former Notre Dame football player Steven Schmitz and his wife against Notre Dame and the NCAA. Schmitz had played for the university from 1974 to 1978 and died in 2015. The lawsuit accuses the NCAA of failing to warn players of the risks from repeated head blows in football, instead upholding policies and practices that downplayed the risks.
Repeated head trauma can cause a buildup of a protein called tau in the brain, which can lead to CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease similar to dementia. Notre Dame and the NCAA argued that Schmitz and his wife should have known by 2010 that his CTE symptoms were related to his years playing football. That was the same year the NCAA changed its concussion protocols after the long-term risk of repeated concussions was brought to light in new studies.
The Ohio Supreme Court likened the latency of CTE to the case of a plaintiff who developed cancer six years after being exposed to toxic fumes. The patient knew he had been exposed to dangerous fumes at the time, but wasn’t aware he had a claim until a doctor linked his cancer to exposure to the toxic gas.
The case before the Ohio Supreme Court – the first state high court to address the issue – shows that players who haven’t played football in years can pursue claims against professional leagues and universities.