ATLANTA — A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former University of Georgia football player who claimed the school's athletic department failed to secure him an insurance policy that would have paid out $500,000 if he suffered a career-ending injury.
Decory Bryant claimed in the lawsuit that a school official failed to complete the paperwork for an insurance policy that would have paid him if an injury ended his career before he had an opportunity to sign a contract with the National Football League.
Athens-Clarke County Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens tossed the lawsuit on Dec. 4, concluding that the athletic association was protected from some civil actions and that Bryant failed to properly notify the school before he filed his complaint.
Bryant and his attorney, Hue Henry, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. Henry has not filed a notice of appeal, according to Athens-Clarke County court documents.
NCAA players are automatically covered by catastrophic insurance which pays medical and other expenses, along with a disability benefit. But a few athletes with pro potential can buy policies to protect millions of dollars in expected income, and Bryant, a promising cornerback and special teams player, was a member of that elite.
Bryant said he told an assistant athletic director charged with arranging insurance for players that he was ready to stomach the $5,000 premium for insurance coverage days before he took the field for an October 2003 game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham. But the lawsuit claimed the official never submitted the forms.
Bryant was returning a kickoff in a tie game against the Blazers when he was tackled by two defenders at the same time. A Georgia blocker watched helplessly as Bryant's body was flung like a rag doll to the tattered grass. His friends in the crowd said they could hear the hit from the top of Sanford Stadium.
Hours later, doctors told Bryant that his neck was broken. Walking again would be a long shot, he was told, and playing football was out of the question.
Bryant, though, held out hope that his insurance policy would still pay out. And the school official, Hoke Wilder, said in depositions that after the incident he frantically called the insurance agent with whom he had discussed Bryant's coverage, and even backdated a document to Oct. 24 — the day before the game.
Wilder did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on the judge's ruling.
But Bryant said that UGA coach Mark Richt pulled him aside a month later and told him the insurance company wasn't going to cover him.
Bryant, now 29, slowly regained the ability to walk and even jog. He also landed a job as a housing consultant. But he told The Associated Press in 2006 that there were days when he winced with pain at the slightest movement in his neck, days when he'd have to dip into a bottle of Tylenol to treat sudden, intense headaches.
Bryant's attorney Hue Henry argued in the December 2004 lawsuit that the athletic association should not be protected from lawsuits because it was a private corporation.
Stephens, however, concluded on Dec. 4 that the athletic association is "an arm of the state" and thus granted protection from some legal complaints from citizens.