Judge approves settlement in Northwestern player's death

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

CHICAGO -- A Cook County judge approved a $16 million settlement of a lawsuit Monday that calls for Northwestern University to pay the family of a football player who collapsed and died during practice four years ago.

Wheeler's mother, Linda Will, who has objected to settling the case, filed an appeal to the order.

In the court order, Circuit Judge Kathy M. Flanagan wrote that she approved the settlement to protect the interests of Rashidi Wheeler's three half brothers, all of whom are minors. Flanagan wrote that if Will was the only plaintiff in the case, she would have the right to reject any settlement.

"Clearly, while she is one of the heirs, she is not the only heir," wrote the judge.

Will said the settlement was unjust and she expected the ruling to be overturned.

"To use innocent, minor children as a means of not having my day in court is not going to be successful," Will said. "Nobody's interest is greater than mine, the mother."

The order is the latest chapter in a contentious battle in the death of the 22-year-old Wheeler, who collapsed on Aug. 3, 2001, after participating in a conditioning drill during a preseason practice. His parents sued the school, claimed officials did not give their son, an asthmatic, timely or adequate medical treatment.

Since then, Will has fired at least three times the law firm representing her in the case. She also has disputed the claim a dietary supplement containing ephedra contributed to her son's death. Wills has argued that Northwestern's coaches and staff were solely responsible for his death.

The case took a strange turn in 2003 when a former Northwestern physician admitted in a deposition to burning records of a physical he performed weeks before Wheeler died -- prompting Will's attorneys at the time to allege the school was trying to cover up the circumstances of his death.

Last month, a court-appointed guardian appointed to represent Wheeler's half brothers recommended Will be removed as co-administrator of Wheeler's estate, citing her "reckless" refusal to settle the case.

Will called a proposal by her ex-husband, George Wheeler Jr. and the court-appointed guardian to settle the wrongful-death lawsuit a "travesty of justice."

Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage said the school agreed to the settlement to end the legal battle. But, said Cubbage, "Northwestern continues to believe strongly that Mr. Wheeler's death was caused by supplements containing ephedra that he took on the day of his death."

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