Attorneys representing the family of the late University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair have sent a notice to state officials signaling that they might sue.
The largely procedural step is required by law as a condition of filing suit later. It doesn’t guarantee a lawsuit will be filed, but keeps the family’s options open as lawyers with the Baltimore-based law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy continue to work through the case.
McNair collapsed during a May 29 preseason practice in College Park, and died of heatstroke about two weeks later. The former McDonogh School standout was 19 years old.
Athletic training staff did not take McNair’s temperature and did not use a cold-water immersion treatment, a technique that researchers say has a 100 percent success rate for those suffering heatstroke when done correctly. University president Wallace Loh has said the school takes “legal and moral responsibility for mistakes the training staff made” on the day McNair was hospitalized.
In an Aug. 24 letter to the State Treasurer’s office, attorney Nikoletta Mendrinos provided notice that McNair’s parents could file a formal lawsuit arguing negligence, wrongful death and violations of civil rights, among other claims.
“University of Maryland officials and employees caused Jordan McNair's heatstroke, failed to recognize Jordan McNair's symptoms of heatstroke, and failed to provide Jordan McNair with medical treatment, further exacerbating the severity of his heatstroke,” the letter reads.
The notice states that McNair’s parents could seek damages in excess of $10 million, as could the estate of Jordan McNair.
The letter names three university employees as being “involved” in the “incident” during which McNair suffered heatstroke, including head football coach DJ Durkin, who has been placed on administrative leave. Also named are Rick Court, who was the strength and conditioning coach at the time of McNair’s death but has since resigned, and Wes Robinson, an athletic trainer who is also on leave.
Durkin’s lawyer declined to comment. A university spokeswoman said the state flagship does not discuss specific legal claims “as a matter of practice.”
Hassan Murphy, managing partner of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that any legal action would come about only after the university completes its own investigations into the circumstances surrounding McNair’s death.
There are two ongoing reviews.
The university hired sports medicine consulting firm Walters Inc. in June to conduct an investigation of the protocols and procedures related to McNair’s death.
After damning media reports that described a “toxic” environment in the football program, Loh then pledged a separate investigation into the organization’s culture.
The University System of Maryland’s governing board has since taken control over both investigations, and appointed its own picks to the group tasked with looking into the team’s culture. Among those on the eight-member commission are former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, former U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen and retired U.S. District Court judges Ben Legg and Alex Williams.
The system’s Board of Regents will be briefed on the findings of the Walters’ Inc. report during its Sept. 21 meeting. The results will be shared publicly later that afternoon, according to a university system spokesman.
“The Board of Regents is committed to uncovering all the discoverable facts about Jordan McNair’s tragic death, and separately, the culture of the football program at the University of Maryland, College Park,” board chair James Brady said in a statement. “Once the board has the facts, we are committed to sharing what we find with the people of Maryland, and to making whatever decisions might be necessary and appropriate to best support our students.”
The board has asked the Maryland attorney general’s office to represent the university and the university system in any legal claims related to McNair’s death.
Murphy, Falcon & Murphy also represented the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Baltimore man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody in 2015. The family received a $6.4 million settlement from the city without filing a lawsuit.