Abram family files wrongful death suit
Ole Miss player collapsed during workouts on Feb. 19, 2010
JACKSON, Miss. -- The family of a former Mississippi football player has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, head coach Houston Nutt and the NCAA.
Bennie 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.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone called Abram's death "a tragedy,'' but added that "all of the actions taken by our medical professionals, athletics trainers, and coaches met or exceeded best practices.''
Ole Miss attorney Lee Tyner said the school hadn't been served the complaint. "We are prepared to defend the good work of our coaches and the care provided by our medical team,'' Tyner said. "After we are served with the complaint, we will respond appropriately.''
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.
Abram is represented by Lanier Law Firm in Houston and Coxwell and Associates in Jackson, Miss. The complaint filed in Hinds County Circuit Court on Tuesday names 28 defendants, including all nine assistant coaches. It also names trainers, the team doctor and the hospital.
"Some of these workouts just don't make any football sense,'' said attorney Gene Egdorf of Lanier Law Firm. "For Ole Miss to say that they feel all of their employees acted responsibly -- I can't help but raise a cynical eye.''
Egdorf also represented former Rice player Dale Lloyd II, who died from sickle cell trait complications in 2006 after a workout. The case helped push the NCAA toward mandatory testing.
"Our goal is to make sure Bennie's death was not in vain,'' Egdorf said. "I'm hoping that mandatory testing is saving lives, but now we need to go one step further.''
Sickle cell trait is found in approximately 8 percent of blacks in the United States, according to the NCAA.