Former Cal U football player’s suit against NCAA headed to trial
A 2013 lawsuit against the NCAA alleging it failed to adequately warn players of the risks associated with long-term brain injuries from football is moving forward in Washington County.
The lawsuit was filed by Matt Onyshko, a former football player for the California University of Pennsylvania in Washington County. It is belived to be the first suit against the NCAA contending football caused amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Onyshko, 38, who is also a former Pittsburgh firefighter, played five seasons for Cal U between 1999 and 2003.
His attorney, Jason E. Luckasevic, is internationally known for concussion lawsuits, having filed the first two NFL suits on behalf of 120 retired players. In June, he settled a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against the NCCA on behalf of former Texas Longhorn Greg Ploetz.
“It’s the first of its kind,” Luckasevic told the Tribune-Review Monday of Onyshko’s case. “This is the first ALS football case in the country. It’s kind of a big deal.”
The case has had several twists and turns, including an NCAA appeal.
Christine Kindl, a Cal U spokeswoman, declined to discuss the pending litigation. Stacey Osburn, a NCAA spokesperson, could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to court documents, the NCAA objected to the lawsuit and argued the association had no legal duty to protect Onyshko from the long term concussion risks while playing collegiate football and that his head injuries did not cause ALS.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. An estimated 20,000 Americans have the disease.
Luckasevic contends the NCAA failed in its duty to provide proper monitoring, supervision, education and training, noting the association was created by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 to address safe participation in college sports after numerous football player deaths.
Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to discover and publish his findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in football players while working at the Allegheny County Coroner’s office. His autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster in 2002 led to the re-emergence of awareness of neurological conditions associated with repeated head injuries. Omalu’s rediscovery was dramatized in 2015 movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith.
Jury selection in the case starts on April 29, with Washington County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Lucas presiding.
Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .