University attorney pursues dismissal in O'Neal lawsuit

Friday, September 16, 2005

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- An attorney for the 14 Missouri football administrators, coaches and trainers facing a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of fallen linebacker Aaron O'Neal has asked a court to dismiss the case.

Though the school is not a party in the lawsuit, the University of Missouri-Columbia has hired attorney Hamp Ford to defend athletic director Mike Alden, coach Gary Pinkel, team medical director Rex Sharp and 11 other trainers and strength coaches.

The motion to dismiss, filed Wednesday, is the first response to the lawsuit in which Lonnie O'Neal, the player's father, said school officials failed to recognize signs of medical distress after Aaron O'Neal, 19, collapsed during a July 12 preseason workout. He died later that afternoon.

The one-page motion asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Lonnie O'Neal "fails to state a cause of action against these defendants upon which relief can be granted." An accompanying motion asks the court to require O'Neal to provide further details about the team leaders' alleged shortcomings, including a charge that strength coaches and trainers didn't follow the school's emergency medical procedures.

Both Ford and Bob Blitz, O'Neal's attorney, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

The suit was filed Aug. 23, the same day Boone County medical examiner Valerie Rao released an autopsy report that listed viral meningitis as the likely cause of death. Swelling in O'Neal's brain subsequently affected his heart and caused him to lose his ability to properly breathe, she determined.

That determination has no bearing on the O'Neal family lawsuit, Blitz has said. Strength trainers and coaches supervising the voluntary workout -- under NCAA rules, Pinkel and his assistants were not allowed to attend -- should have pulled the player from the workout once he showed signs of distress, the lawsuit says.

According to Rao's report, which included interviews with more than 20 players, strength coaches and trainers at the workout, O'Neal repeatedly lost his balance during a stretching exercise and complained of blurred vision.

Once on the ground after the final drill, Sharp told a concerned strength coach that "there was nothing that could be done," according to the medical examiner's report.

And while O'Neal was eventually taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, a strength coach first took him to the football team's office in a university pickup truck he and another player had to flag down.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: