By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
The attorney representing the family of former Ole Miss football player Bennie Abram, who died following a team workout on Feb. 19, 2010, says he expects to file suit against the university, possibly in less than two weeks.
Ole Miss chancellor Dr. Dan Jones received on Jan. 28 a notice letter from attorney Eugene Egdorf, of a Houston, Texas-based law firm, stating Egdorf’s intention initiate legal proceedings if a settlement was not reached with the Abram family.
Mississippi law requires a 90-day window between a notice letter and the filing of a lawsuit. Day No. 90 will be on April 27.
University attorney Lee Tyner did not return a call seeking comment on Friday.
Egdorf asserts that the school’s training staff knew of Abram’s condition of sickle cell trait and was negligent in regard to the demands of the off-season workout and in its response after Abram collapsed during the workout.
“What I can tell you is there’s been no indication at all from Ole Miss of any desire to resolve this, change its procedures or replace any staff that caused the death of Mr. Abram,” Egdorf said.
Twenty years old at the time of his death, Abram was a Southaven native who played defensive back at Itawamba Community College before transferring to Ole Miss.
The autopsy report cited three factors in Abram’s death: sickle cell trait (SCT), exertion and an enlarged heart.
“I fully expect that once the calendar turns 90 days, you will get a copy of the lawsuit I have filed to remedy this injustice,” Egdorf said. “Late April or May is when the activity will begin unless they do something within the next couple of weeks to try and make this right.”
Egdorf claimed further negligence on the part of Dr. Jeffrey Dennis, saying an improper course of action was followed at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford and said Dennis and Shannon Singletary, the school’s senior associate AD for sports medicine, attempted to intentionally mislead the public by stating that Abram’s death was related to asthma or medication.
Following Abram’s death, news releases from the school described the preseason workout as “routine.”
The notice letter lists Abram’s parents, Bennie and Erma Abram, as well as the estate of Bennie Abram III as client. Listed as defendants are Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, his entire coaching staff, training staff, athletics director Pete Boone, Dennis and the university at large.
Egdorf negotiated a settlement with the NCAA in 2009 following the death of Rice University football player Dale Lloyd, who also had SCT.
As a result of that settlement, the NCAA for the first time recommended that all student-athletes be tested for SCT. Testing was already in place at Ole Miss.
“Clearly my work is not done in changing how off-season workouts are handled,” Egdorf said.
He compared the Ole Miss case to the University of Iowa case in which 13 football players were hospitalized in January with symptoms of a rare muscle disorder known as rhabdomyolysis following a conditioning workout.
A committee investigating the Iowa incident has recommended that Iowa drop what it describes as an “intense, high-volume squat-lifting workout.”
Upon receipt of the notice letter in January, athletics director Pete Boone issued a statement saying, “The tragic loss of Bennie was immeasurable to not only the Abram family, but also the Ole Miss family. The well-being of our student-athletes has and always will be our highest priority. We reviewed all the actions taken by our medical professionals, athletic trainers and coaches and found that medical protocol and emergency action plans complied with the Best Practices at that time for such cases. We are surprised by this letter from the attorneys and are confident that the facts confirm that we followed the proper procedures.”
Egdorf says a lawsuit is coming unless the university reaches out to the Abram family in a way he deems acceptable.
“Bennie Abram is dead, and Bennie Abram is dead because of what Houston Nutt and his staff not only had them doing in the workout but how they handled it when Bennie started having issues,” he said. “Apparently his death did not send a message, and sometimes litigation is the only way to get that message sent.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.