Parents’ suit against football helmet maker can proceed

ROCKVILLE — A Montgomery County judge this week declined to dismiss charges against a helmet manufacturer in a case brought by the parents of a Frostburg State University football player 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 NCAA, 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, among other charges, 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 Judge David Alan Boynton denied a motion to dismiss charges against Schutt Sports based on information in the parents’ complaints. 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 charges 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 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.

Tim Schwartz – CNS

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