O'Neal lawsuit settled for $2 million, athletic scholarship planned

Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 3:33 p.m. CDT; updated 5:23 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 12, 2009

COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri System and its insurer will pay about $2 million to the parents of Aaron O'Neal and establish a $250,000 scholarship endowment fund in his memory as part of the settlement of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents against employees of MU's athletics department.

As part of the settlement, neither the UM System nor the 14 employees of the athletics department named in the lawsuit will be held liable for O'Neal's death.

Timeline of Aaron O'Neal lawsuit

July 12, 2005: Aaron O’Neal, 19, dies after collapsing at a voluntary football practice.

July 29, 2005: MU released a timeline of the day of O’Neal’s death.

Aug. 23, 2005: Then-Boone County Medical Examiner Valerie Rao releases autopsy report citing lymphocytic meningitis infection as the cause of O’Neal’s death. A letter from University Hosptial neurologist Douglas Anthony found sickled red blood cell in O’Neal’s brain, a condition which is commonly found in people with sickle-cell trait.

Aug. 23, 2005: Aaron O’Neal’s father, Lonnie O’Neal, files a wrongful death lawsuit against 14 coaches, trainers and employees of the MU Athletic Department, including MU football coach Gary Pinkel and Athletic Director Mike Alden.

July 2006: The O’Neals’ attorneys amend the lawsuit, alleging that MU failed to identify O’Neal as a carrier of sickle-cell trait.

March 12, 2007:
Hamp Ford, a private Columbia attorney, asks that certain statements be removed from the lawsuit.

March 28, 2007:
Judge Gary Oxenhandler rules that certain statements be stricken from the lawsuit and that the O’Neals’ attorneys specify which guidelines were violated.

Feb. 11, 2008:
Judge Gary Oxenhandler hears a motion to quash a subpoena by attorneys for Lonnie and Deborah O’Neal.

Dec. 23, 2008: Notice filed to depose MU football coach Gary Pinkel, MU Athletic Director Mike Alden and Associate Director of Athletics for Administration Mark Alnutt who is the former director of football operations at MU.

Feb. 19: Parties in the lawsuit take part in an independent mediation.

Feb. 20: A letter filed with the court by Michael C. Rader, attorney for Aaron O’Neal’s mother, Deborah O’Neal, indicates that the matter has been settled pending approval by the court.

March 12:The University of Missouri System and its insurer will pay $2 million to the parents of Aaron O'Neal and establish a $250,000 scholarship endowment fund in his memory as part of the settlement of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents against employees of MU's athletic department.

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The terms of the settlement were approved in Boone County Circuit Court by Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler in a hearing Thursday afternoon.

As part of the settlement Aaron O'Neal's father, Lonnie O'Neal, will receive 65 percent of the settlement, or about $1.3 million. Deborah O'Neal, Aaron O'Neal's mother, will receive 35 percent, or about $700,000. In addition, the UM System will pay the $10,333.95 in the plaintiff's taxable court costs.

MU will award a scholarship from the Aaron O'Neal endowment to a student athlete each year. The $250,000 will come from unrestricted funds from the MU Athletic Department's budget, UM System Chief of Staff David Russell said after the hearing today.

Russell said the scholarship was offered by the UM System to honor O'Neal.

A tentative settlement agreement in the lawsuit was reached on Feb. 20 after an independent mediation. On Tuesday, UM System General Counsel Steve Owens said the parties had been discussing ways to resolve the case since its filing.

The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 23, 2005, by Aaron O'Neal's father. His mother, Deborah O'Neal, was later added to the lawsuit.

The suit alleged that trainers, coaches and staff didn't properly care for O'Neal after he collapsed during a voluntary workout on July 12, 2005. He later died at University Hospital.

As of Feb. 25, the UM System had spent almost $375,000 in legal defense costs , according to documents obtained by the Missourian under the Sunshine Law.

Check back with the Missourian for more information.

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