OXFORD – A Hinds County judge said a Jackson-area couple whose son died during football practice at the University of Mississippi will have their case tried in Oxford, where the university is located.
Bennie and Erma Abram of Southaven allege that the university didn’t follow workout guidelines for players with sickle-cell trait. They said 20-year-old Bennie Abram was unaware that he had the trait, which can deform red blood cells after strenuous exercise. The NCAA requires Division I schools to test players for it, although athletes carrying the trait are not prevented from playing sports
Abram died Feb. 19, 2010, during the first day of formal offseason workouts.
Abram’s family, which sued the university, coach Houston Nutt and the NCAA in May in Hinds County, opposed the motion to move the case to Lafayette County.
Gulflive reported that Chuck Mullins, a Jackson attorney representing the family, said Hinds County is the proper place for the suit.
“I believe Lafayette would be a difficult place to get a fair trial simply because of the potential jurors’ connection with the University of Mississippi,” Mullins said.
J. Cal Mayo, an Oxford attorney representing Ole Miss, said the venue should be where the event took place.
“Everything that took place happened in Lafayette County. Nothing happened in Hinds County,” Mayo said.
Mullins said Hinds County is also the proper venue because it is where the state College Board is based, and the board has control over all public colleges and universities, including the implementation of policies and procedures.
“The procedure which should have been implemented in this case is one which the IHL is ultimately responsible for,” Mullins said, referring to the exercise program for athletes diagnosed with sickle cell.
He said the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that Hinds County is the proper venue when the College Board is a defendant even when the action occurred elsewhere.
Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill ruled that the wrongful death suit should be heard in Lafayette County because that’s where Abram died and where most of the plaintiffs are located.
School officials said Abram collapsed during a routine workout, but that he seemed to be struggling during that first official day of team workouts.
Sickle cell trait is usually asymptomatic, but can occasionally trigger severe problems after strenuous exercise.
Within 15 minutes into the “conditioning portion of the workout” Abram was having problems. Trainers began first aid on Abram and called 911. Abram died at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford, several hours later at 12:11 p.m.
Abram’s grandparents told local news stations that he had asthma, but it was unclear initially if that was a factor in his death.
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 Abram’s lawsuit alleges that the first day of workouts was “carelessly and recklessly excessive,” especially for athletes with sickle cell trait. It also claims that while Ole Miss knew Abram had the sickle cell trait, 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.
The lawsuit also alleges gross negligence, medical malpractice and a violation of civil rights.
Abrams, a non-scholarship junior transferred from Itawamba Community College last fall. An exercise science major, he was enrolled in UM’s School of Applied Sciences. Abrams joined the football team as a safety in January 2010.
Lafayette County officials confirmed that the lawsuit has been filed by Abram’s parents, but no further action has been taken on the case.