EUGENE A Wednesday the first day of the civil trial in the case of former Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Doug Brenner, a former UO football coach, and former UO coach Irele Oderinde, the University of Oregon and the NCAA.
After four hours of proceedings in the Lane County Circuit Court, four lawyers addressed a range of issues related to Brenner's lawsuit, which is seeking $125.5 million in punitive damages, pain and suffering, and future medical expenses related to his hospitalization and rhabdomyolysis diagnosis in January 2017.
The NCAA's football acclimatization period and the degree of culpability it has for failing to adapt to winter strength and conditioning workouts, the extent of long-term kidney damage Brenner suffered as a result of his hospitalization, Brenner's responsibility for the injuries he suffered, and how or whether those injuries had any impact on his NFL potential.
The varying perspectives on the case, which has taken more than three years to reach Judge Clara Rigmaiden's courtroom, were heard by a 12-person jury and three alternates.
At the opening of his 93-minute opening statement, Greg Kafoury, one of the attorneys representing Brenner from Kafoury & McDougal, said "You all understand the stakes."
Brenner's $125.5 million lawsuit is seeking $100 million in punitive damages from the NCAA, $20 million for pain and suffering, and $5.5 million for past and future medical expenses from Oregon, Taggart, and Oderinde. Wednesday, the former Oregon employees were in attendance.
The sides agree that trainings conducted at Oregon in January 2017, shortly after Taggart arrived at Oregon and hired Oderinde to serve his strength and conditioning coach, were intense in nature and ultimately led Brenner and two other players Sam Poutasi and Cam McCormick with rhabdomyolysis, a condition that can result in fractures in muscles.
Some mistakes were made, said Will F. Stute, one of the NCAA's lawyers from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. We believe some were, said the result.
Poutasi, who when he filed a lawsuit in January 2018, recently settled his claim in the case. McCormick, who is still a member of Oregon's football team, opted not to file a lawsuit.
Where the sides differ dramatically, the person who is responsible for the hospitalizations, how much responsibility falls on Brenner himself, the severity of his injuries, and whether or not it had any impact on his professional football prospects.
Former football commissioner Robert Kafoury, Brenner's attorney, attacked the NCAA for failing to enact regulations regulating strength and conditioning exercises, particularly at the start of known transitional periods on the football calendar.
In 2003, the NCAA issued a five-day acclimatization period for football practice, which it extended to a seven-day period. However, the rule does not apply to winter conditioning activities as in this case, which Kafoury described as "cruelty masquerading as assistance."
Kafoury said a nephrologist will disclose that Brenner has suffered acute kidney pain and will undergo further lasting consequences from the incident, which he claimed negatively impacted Brenner's chances to compete in the NFL.
Both Stute and Stephen English of Perkins Coie, who represents Taggart, Oderinde, and UO in the case, questioned the extent of Brenner's injuries, claiming that he has gone beyond expectations.
There is "no evidence of permanent damage to his kidneys from the rhabdo," according to English, who praised Brenner for his college involvement.
Taggart was not only hired to guide the Ducks on the field following a 4-8 season under Mark Helfrich in 2016, but also to guide the team off the field. Six players were subjected to disciplinary or legal issues the season before Taggart arrived.
Lawyers claim that when he told Oregon's players during a team meeting on January 8, 2017, his coaching staff was "going to discover the snakes in the grass and cut their heads off," it applied to the team's discipline and accountability, not as a threat relating to workouts that would follow two days later.
According to English, Brenner "was requested to modify his workouts" after the first day, by UO associate athletic trainer Travis Halseth. So, in the view of the defense, he shares responsibility for his "serious but temporary" injuries.
According to an expert evaluation, Brenner had previously required surgery and completed his 2017 season. These injuries, combined with his skill, made his chances of reaching the NFL virtually impossible.
Stute, who was aggravated during Kafoury's opening remarks, described several aspects of the NCAA's legislative process, which he said was ultimately on the recommendation of its members schools. He said, the schools are directly responsible for athletes' health and safety.
Even if NCAA's rhabdomyolysis guidelines were implemented into bylaws, Stute said, it would make "no difference" in the organization's ability to halt college athletes from overexerting themselves.
You cant prevent everything with words on the page, Stute said of the NCAA's requirement that strength and conditioning coaches "be certified and maintain current certification through a nationally accredited strength and conditioning certification program."
However, neither the attorneys for Brenner nor the NCAA discussed the otherwise broadness of what it translates to being "a nationally recognized strength and conditioning certification program." At the time, Oderinde was certified by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), which at the time exceeded the NCAA's threshold despite requiring a 21-hour training course, compared to the 640 hours required by the widely-used Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.
Dr. Douglas Casa, the CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute, was appointed as their first witnesses by Brenner's attorneys.
During his over 30 years of research and research on excessextertional injuries in sports, he admitted that there has been a pattern in college sports in which 80% of fatalities and catastrophic injuries occur during five weeks of transition periods at the start of football workouts and practices. However, the same is true in the NFL.
Casa's testimony will continue on Thursday, when Jody Sykes, an Oregon senior associate athletic director and chief compliance officer, will be summoned to the stand.
Marcus Mariota, a former UO quarterback who has joined the Atlanta Falcons, will testify remotely during the trial, which will last three weeks, according to Brenner's attorneys.