Language for O’Neal lawsuit may be revised

Defense for MU staff says allegations are not clear enough.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:00 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Aaron O’Neal died in July 2005 after a voluntary football team practice at MU.

Attorneys for 14 current and former MU staff members named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Aaron O’Neal asked Monday for a more specific summary of the allegations against their clients.

O’Neal’s father, Lonnie O’Neal, sued MU Athletics Director Mike Alden, MU football coach Gary Pinkel, team medical director Rex Sharp and 11 other trainers and strength and conditioning coaches in August 2005, following the death of his 19-year-old son after a voluntary football team practice at Faurot Field on July 12, 2005. The suit alleged, among other things, that coaches and trainers waited too long and did too little to respond to O’Neal’s distress before he died.

Jeffrey Blaylock, an associate with the Columbia law firm Ford, Parshall and Baker, which is representing the defendants, complained that the petition filed on behalf of O’Neal’s family alleged that the 14 defendants violated one or more NCAA guidelines or regulations. The petition, however, did not specify which particular guidelines each defendant supposedly violated.

Chris Bauman, attorney for O’Neal’s family, argued that the language of the petition was specific enough and provides each of the defendants the opportunity to admit or deny fault.

But Blaylock responded that the petition in its current form would require the defense to determine what specific aspects of each of his client’s behavior was an issue in the case. He said it was the plaintiff’s job to make the allegations and the defendant’s job to respond to them.

Judge Gary Oxenhandler said he would consider the motion and decide later whether the petition should be amended again to make it more specific.

If the motion is granted, O’Neal’s lawyers will be sent back to the drawing board for the second time.

In March, Oxenhandler ruled that O’Neal’s attorneys had not stated with enough specificity what guidelines and regulations each defendant was supposed to have violated.

He also ordered them to strike certain language from their first petition that the defendants’ attorney Hamp Ford had characterized as “impertinent and immaterial.” The language stricken included assertions that “O’Neal was beginning to die” during practice, that he looked like a “flower wilting” when he collapsed and a quote from a paramedic saying “two assholes” at the Tom Taylor athletic training facility did not direct him to O’Neal.

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