Family of Former Rebels’ Player Sues Mississippi

September 14, 2011

A Hinds County judge says he will rule soon on a motion by the University of Mississippi to move a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a former Ole Miss football player to Lafayette County.

The Clarion-Ledger reports arguments were heard Monday on the motion.

The motion is being opposed by the family of Bennie Abram. The family sued the university, coach Houston Nutt and the NCAA in May in Hinds County.

Abram was 20 years old when he collapsed during the first day of formal offseason workouts on Feb. 19, 2010, and later died at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Miss. An autopsy revealed Abram died from complications associated with sickle cell trait.

Ole Miss was aware Abram had sickle cell trait, which is usually asymptomatic, but can occasionally trigger severe problems after strenuous exercise. The university has repeatedly said all of its employees acted properly.

The NCAA made sickle cell trait testing mandatory for all Division I athletes last year, though carrying the trait does not prevent an athlete from playing sports.

On Monday, Chuck Mullins, a Jackson attorney representing the family, said Hinds County is the proper place for the suit.

“I believe Lafayette would be a difficult place to get a fair trial simply because of the potential jurors’ connection with the University of Mississippi,” Mullins said.

J. Cal Mayo, an Oxford attorney representing Ole Miss, said the venue should be where the event took place.

“Everything that took place happened in Lafayette County. Nothing happened in Hinds County,” Mayo said.

Mullins said Hinds County is also the proper venue because it is where the state College Board is based, and the board has control over all public colleges and universities, including the implementation of policies and procedures.

“The procedure which should have been implemented in this case is one which the IHL is ultimately responsible for,” Mullins said, referring to the exercise program for athletes diagnosed with sickle cell.

He said the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that Hinds County is the proper venue when the College Board is a defendant even when the action occurred elsewhere.

The NCAA has a set of guidelines for institutions to follow regarding the training of athletes with sickle cell trait, including a “slow and gradual” preseason conditioning regimen and for athletes to “stop immediately upon struggling.”

The lawsuit alleges that the first day of workouts was “carelessly and recklessly excessive,” especially for athletes with sickle cell trait. It also claims there was no evidence Abram was informed of his condition, and that he didn’t receive proper medical attention when he began struggling during the workouts, and was instead pushed to continue.

He died several hours after the early morning workouts ended.

The lawsuit also alleges gross negligence, medical malpractice and a violation of civil rights.

Sickle cell trait is found in approximately 8 percent of African-Americans in the United States, according to the NCAA.

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