Grant Brace died after wrestling coaches refused to allow him to get water or take a break during practice. Now, the university is on the hook for a $14 million settlement to his parents.
Every sport can be dangerous in its own way. Certainly, wrestling has its share of injuries.
However, it wasn’t wrestling that caused the death of 20-year-old Grant Brace, a student at the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.
Brace was involved in wrestling practice. He died not from an opponent’s too-fierce maneuver, but from heat stroke caused by dehydration.
A lawsuit filed by the Brace family has settled for $14 million to be paid by the university.
What happened to Grant Brace?
20-year-old Grant Brace was about to begin his junior year at University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, majoring in business administration.
Brace had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. His doctor prescribed Adderall to treat these conditions. The drug is comprised of mixed amphetamine salts and is approved and commonly used for both ADHD and narcolepsy. Upon prescribing the drug, Brace’s doctor informed him that remaining hydrated would be critical while taking this medication.
The lawsuit claims that the university was aware that Brace required hydration for his medication and medical conditions and was committed to accommodating his needs.
On August 31, 2020, the wrestling team started practice by running on a track and then sprinting up and down an incline known as “punishment hill” seven times. The National Weather Service recorded the area temperature that day at 83 degrees.
Brace told his coach that he was exhausted during the sprints. The coach told him if he stopped, he would be kicked off the team and should stop practicing. So Brace tried sprinting again but could not continue. When practice was over, Brace laid on the mats indoors and begged for water, but the coaches yelled at the teammates who tried to help him. Brace was ordered by his coaches to leave the room, and he went outside. He searched for help but collapsed and was found dead on campus about 45 minutes after he left.
The autopsy concluded that Brace died from heat stroke caused by an increase in body temperature brought on by intense physical activity in hot weather.
A teammate reported that the wrestlers usually did not have water remaining in their water bottles by the end of practice and they were not permitted to get more water until they were finished with Punishment Hill.
The Brace family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the university
Aside from the facts of what happened to Grant Brace on the day he died, there was other evidence that bolstered the case for the university’s negligence. Grant apparently believed he was mistreated by members of the wrestling department staff even before that tragic day. He left a series of devastating voice memos on his phone, saying things like, “Grant's daily blog for mom and dad, in case something bad were to happen to me."
The university maintains that it could defend itself from these claims, but that a lawsuit would be lengthy and expensive, and it decided to offer a settlement instead.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
If you’re the survivor of someone who died because of another party’s negligence, you might file a wrongful death lawsuit. The principles of a personal injury lawsuit would apply to a wrongful death lawsuit; these are primarily that the plaintiff (the representative of the deceased person) needs to prove the elements of negligence to make a claim.
Elements of negligence
To prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of care. Everyone owes a duty to someone at some time—even if it’s someone they don’t know. For example, every driver owes a duty of care to other road users. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached that duty. A breach would be driving in a way that doesn’t take reasonable care to avoid harm — for example, if a driver is speeding, texting, drunk, or otherwise driving unsafely, they are breaching their duty to avoid foreseeable harm to another person.
In Brace’s lawsuit, the university coaching staff for the wrestling team clearly had a duty to the students. They breached their duty when they prevented Brace from taking a break or allowing him to get water when he needed it.
Causation and injury
You must also prove causation, which is that the injury happened because of the defendant’s action (or inaction). Causation and injury go hand in hand; if a driver is speeding but doesn’t cause an accident, then their behavior might have been reckless but a plaintiff has no cause of action because they were not injured.
The autopsy proved causation for Brace’s death. The death was caused by heat exhaustion, which was a direct result of the coaches’ not allowing Brace rest and water. The injury in this instance was Brace’s death.
Typically, damages are paid to cover the cost of medical treatment, lost wages, pain and suffering, and some related expenses.
Wrongful death, itself, compensates the survivors for emotional, financial and other contributions of the deceased person.
A "survival action" pays for the victim’s suffering in between the time of the accident or injury and the time of death. If there are medical bills because the person lived for a period of time before they succumbed to their injuries, that would be part of a survival action. This would also include pain and suffering or other damages. The damages in a survival action are paid to the deceased person’s estate, which is then distributed to their beneficiaries.
The earliest symptoms of a heat injury are painful cramping of major muscle groups. If not treated with cooling and water, these cramps can progress to heat exhaustion and heat stroke (a condition caused by your body overheating, which can result in brain damage, organ damage, and even death).
Fortunately, heat-related illnesses can be prevented. Here are some tips:
- Eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, and get adequate rest.
- Monitor fluid loss by weighing yourself before and after every practice.
- Know the symptoms of heat stroke (altered mental state, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate, headache).
- Wear clothes that help wick sweat away from the body and keep you cool.
- Take extra precautions with certain medications that can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
- Coaches should encourage players to speak up when they’re feeling uncomfortable.
- Coaches should have a plan to help athletes quickly cool down when they become overheated.
One of the provisions in the Brace settlement is not about the money, but about keeping future athletes protected from heat-related illnesses. The university has committed to educating coaches and students about heat-related illness and supporting the Brace family efforts to educate others, as well.