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Family of Montclair High School football player Ryne Dougherty who died in 2008 settles lawsuit for $2.8 million

Family of Montclair High School football player Ryne Dougherty who died in 2008 settles lawsuit for $2.8 million

Ryne Dougherty died on Oct. 15, 2008, two days after collapsing in a junior varsity game against Don Bosco Prep.

The family of a Montclair High School football player who died two days after collapsing in a 2008 junior varsity game agreed Monday to settle its lawsuit against the school and the township’s Board of Education for $2.8 million, the family’s lawyer said.

The eleventh-hour settlement came as lawyers were preparing to pick jurors for a trial in Essex County Superior Court that was expected to highlight the school’s decision to allow Ryne Dougherty back on the field for an Oct. 13, 2008 game against Don Bosco Prep despite suffering a concussion in practice weeks before.

Dougherty, 16, suffered a seizure moments after bringing down a Bosco player in a tackle known as an “alligator roll” and never regained consciousness.

“Today is my game,” Ryne told his stepfather before boarding a bus for the game in Ramsey. “I’m gonna be a star.”

Instead, the junior linebacker whose tireless dedication to the sport he loved and who was the envy of his teammates died in a Hackensack hospital room on Oct. 15, 2008 after being removed from life support, his family’s attorney said.

“What they did in this case was indefensible,” said Beth Baldinger, the lawyer representing Ryne’s family. “Ryne Dougherty should never have been out on that field.”

Montclair Board of Education officials said they had not been notified of the settlement, which was handled by the law firm representing their insurance carrier. Attorney Edward Thornton could not be reached for comment.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2009, school officials defended their decision to let Ryne play, saying he had been cleared for contact by his family physician. “There’s not anyone who doesn’t think this was a horrific tragedy,” said Mark Tabakin, the board’s attorney.

The settlement comes 10 days after the NFL agreed to pay its former players $765 million to settle concussion-related lawsuits – a development Baldinger said kickstarted settlement talks in the Dougherty case after nearly four years of depositions and pre-trial legal skirmishes.

Central to the family’s claim were allegations that the school’s athletic trainers on two separate occasions missed a chance to prevent Ryne from rejoining his teammates despite telltale signs he was still coping with the after-effects of a concussion suffered during a Sept. 18, 2008 practice.

Baldinger said the school’s athletic training staff violated its own guidelines by failing to properly monitor Ryne during a five-day cooling off period in early October 2008, when it was supposed to gauge his fitness to return to play.

And, Baldinger said, a baseline brain function test administered to all football players on Oct. 2, 2008 indicated that Ryne had post-concussion symptoms that should have kept him off the field.

She said Ryne died from “Second Impact Syndrome,” a condition which afflicts high-school age athletes who have not fully recovered from a concussion, leaving them vulnerable to even the most minor impact to the head.

Baldinger said that after making the tackle, Ryne was on the ground writhing in pain as he tried to remove his helmet. He managed to get to his feet and was able to answer basic questions put to him by trainers, including what day of the week it was, she said. But as he headed to the sideline, he collapsed.

She said Ryne’s parents hope the lawsuit will prompt other schools to re-evaluate their protocols for clearing players who’ve had concussions before they return to play.