A Pittsburgh firefighter, husband, and father of two is suing the National
Collegiate Athletic Association over allegations that the organization failed to warn him about the dangers of concussions sustained during on-the-field play.
Matthew Onyshko, 32, who has two young children with his wife, Jessica, a co-plaintiff in the litigation, accuses the NCAA of failing to take effective action to protect him from the long-term effects of concussions and sub-concussive blows to the head while he played college football at California University of Pennsylvania from 1999 to 2003.
The complaint, which was filed by attorney Jason E. Luckasevic, of the Pittsburgh firm Goldberg, Persky & White, says that the NCAA breached its duty to protect Onyshko “in the face of long-standing and overwhelming evidence regarding the need to do so.”
“The NCAA failed to educate its football-playing athletes, like Onyshko, on the long-term, life-altering risks and consequences of head trauma in football,” the lawsuit reads. “They failed to establish known protocols to prevent, mitigate, monitor, diagnose, and treat neurological disorders.”
The athletic association, the plaintiff claims, failed to address and/or correct the coaching of tackling or playing methodologies that cause head injuries, and it failed to educate coaches, trainers and student-athletes as to the symptoms indicating possible concussions.
“The NCAA engaged in a long-established pattern of negligence and inaction with respect to concussions and concussion-related maladies sustained by student-athletes,” the complaint states.
Onyshko, the suit says, experienced many repeated blows to the head during his collegiate football career.
On three occasions in particular, he lost consciousness for at least 30 seconds.
After he graduated, the Pittsburgh man began to experience headaches, numbness, twitching, muscle atrophy, fatigue, loss of mobility, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, weakness and other neurological symptoms, the lawsuit states.
And just recently, Onyshko was diagnosed with a progressive brain and spinal cord injury with “ALS-like symptoms” said to be caused by repeated head trauma during his college football career.
The complaint states that medical science has known for decades that “repetitive and violent jarring” of the head or impact to the head can cause what is known as Mild Trauma Brain Injury with a heightened risk of long-term, chronic neuro-cognitive maladies.
The NCAA has known or should have known for many years that collegiate football players and their families, including Onyshko, were unaware of the serious risk posed to the players’ long-term cognitive health caused by repeated head impacts while playing football, the complaint reads.
“From its inception, the NCAA had a duty to protect football players like the Plaintiff from health and safety risks,” the suit states. “The NCAA held itself out as acting in the [sic] Onyshko’s best interests. Plaintiff relied on the NCAA to disclose relevant risk information and protect his health and safety.”
The civil action accuses the NCAA of negligence for failing to protect the plaintiff’s health and safety.
“The NCAA knew or should have known that its actions or inaction in light of the rate and extent of concussions reported and made known to the NCAA would cause harm to the Plaintiff in both the short and long term” the complaint reads.
Jessica Onyshko, the plaintiff’s wife, has a loss of consortium claim in the litigation that says she has suffered the loss of her spouse’s support, society, services and companionship due to his injuries, and that she, too, has had to spend money on medical care relating to her husband’s treatment.
The couple seeks more than $75,000 in damages, along with interest and costs.
The complaint was filed nearly four months after thousands of former professional football players and the National Football League agreed to a $765 million proposed settlement in multidistrict concussion litigation that had been playing out at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia.
The federal case number is 2:13-cv-01791-CRE.