Ennis Britton first reported about this case in the May 2018 issue of our newsletter, School Law Review, as it has implications for school districts and athletic organizations. Since then, this case has continued in court, and the Ohio Supreme Court has now weighed in as well.
Steve Schmitz was an NCAA athlete who, during the course of his football career in the 1970s, exhibited several symptoms related to repeated concussions. He was diagnosed with CTE in 2012 and alleged that this was the first time he knew he had suffered a bodily injury. He filed a lawsuit in 2014. Since his death in 2015, his widow has continued the lawsuit.
The Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the case based on the statute of limitations as more than two years had passed since the bodily injury occurred.
A cause of action for a bodily injury generally accrues from the time the wrongful act that caused the injury was committed. Most often, the bodily injury and the wrongful act occur at the same time; in these cases, the statute of limitations clearly begins tolling at the time of injury. However, in some cases a person is not aware of a bodily injury at the time of the wrongful act. In these cases, it is not as clear when the two-year statute of limitations should begin running.
On October 31, 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously decided that the lower court had dismissed the case prematurely and that the case should continue. The Supreme Court developed a “discovery rule” for cases of latent bodily injury, in which the injury develops after the incident that caused it. The opinion stated, “[e]ssentially, the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should know that he has suffered a cognizable injury.”
A similar case previously decided by the Ohio Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations for a latent injury claim began tolling on the “date a competent medical authority” informed the man of his specific bodily injury. Liddell v. SCA Servs. of Ohio, 70 Ohio St. 3d 6 (Ohio 1994).
– Schmitz v. Natl. Collegiate Athletic Assn., Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4391.