Loyola Marymount University settled with the mother of Hank Gathers Monday for $545,000, ending legal action that began against the school shortly after the basketball star's death two years ago.
The settlement, which dismissed the school, Athletic Director Brian Quinn and former trainer Chip Schaefer from any responsibility in Gathers' death, is the final chapter in the wrongful death portion of the suit that dealt with the moral responsibility of the school and the treatment Gathers received by doctors before his death.
But the part of the suit that alleges negligence by those who treated Gathers on the court at Gersten Pavilion in the moments after his collapse remains scheduled for trial April 27.
Gathers collapsed while playing in a West Coast Conference tournament game March 4, 1990, and died less than two hours later of cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder.
"I am sad that it took so long to resolve (the suit with the Loyola), but I am glad this part is over," Derrick Gathers, Hank's brother, said after a hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Torrance. He said he was satisfied with the settlement, and that he has no hard feelings toward the school.
"When it (Gathers' death) happened, I thought Loyola would say, 'Fine, we messed up and we're going to pay.' But I have learned a lot over the past two years, and that is that as far as business goes, they were all just doing their jobs."
Derrick Gathers said the first priority is for his mother to move out of the Raymond Rosen Projects, the slum in Philadelphia where Gathers grew up.
Wayne Boehle, the attorney for Loyola, said he had mixed emotions. "I'm delighted that on behalf of the university and its agents and the Gathers family that we were able to resolve the matter," he said. "But on a personal level, I would have liked my clients vindicated by a jury because I believe they would have been."
Boehle said the decision by the school's insurance carrier to settle was economic as well as moral. The insurance company estimated it would have cost it $545,000 to proceed with a trial.
"There was a moral obligation of the school to (Lucille Gathers), even though it had no legal responsibility," Boehle said. "The moral implications of what happens when you lose a son and father is that it is a tragedy, and it has to be taken into consideration."
Monday, Bruce Fagel, the Gathers' family attorney, also dismissed Michael Mellman, the internist who treated Gathers and cleared him to play basketball, and his medical practice, Mellman & Moe. Mellman's dismissal was not part of a settlement, but as the only remaining defendant in the wrongful death portion of the suit, Fagel said it did not make monetary sense to proceed solely against him and his firm.
The wrongful death suits, the first of which was filed for $32.5 million, were settled, with the plaintiffs receiving as follows:
--Lucille Gathers received a total of $895,000.
--Aaron Crump, Gathers' 8-year-old son, received a total of $1.505 million. The wrongful death suit filed by Gathers' estate, with Crump as the sole beneficiary, settled three weeks ago.
The defendants settled as follows:
--Loyola paid $1.4 million: $855,000 to Crump and $545,000 to Lucille Gathers.
--Dr. Vernon Hattori, the cardiologist who treated Gathers, paid $1 million: $650,000 to Crump and $350,000 to Lucille Gathers.
--Gathers' former coach, Paul Westhead, was dismissed from both suits apart from any settlements and paid nothing.
--Mellman and three other doctors named in the suit--Ralph Gambardella, Clarence Shields and Charles Swerdlow--were dismissed and paid nothing.
Loyola's settlement and attorney fees were paid by its insurance carrier and did not come out of the school's general fund.
Fagel said the decision to settle was economic. If a jury were to rule in his client's favor, he would have to prove that Gathers--had he lived--would have given his mother more than $895,000 to make the trial worthwhile. Fagel said the chances were slim that, given Gathers' medical condition, he would have earned enough money to give his mother nearly $1 million.
The remaining two causes in the suit deal with the alleged emotional distress suffered by family members who were at the game in the moments after Gathers' collapse. Brought by Lucille Gathers, brothers Derrick and Charles Gathers and an aunt, Carole Livingston Gillmore, the suit alleges that negligence by Benjamin Schaeffer, the doctor-on-duty, and Dan Hyslop, a doctor who works at Loyola's Student Health Center, caused them severe emotional distress. Also named is the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Group of Inglewood, where Schaeffer works.
"That's the part of the suit that we originally came to Bruce (Fagel) about," Derrick Gathers said. "Just being there (at the gym), and seeing them not do anything after Hank collapsed when everyone there knew that Hank had a cardiac problem. Then, watching them take him outside."
The issues at trial are certain to center on Schaeffer's decision to move Gathers outside the gym, whether Gathers was unconscious and the use of the school's defibrillator. A defibrillator is a device used to shock the heart back to a normal rhythm. The device was purchased after Gathers collapsed while playing in a game Dec. 9, but Loyola has said it was not purchased because of Gathers' condition, which was diagnosed as a rapid heartbeat.
Attorneys for Schaeffer and Kerlan-Jobe say that the suit has no merit and they plan to defend it.
Craig Dummit, attorney for Hyslop, says his client was at the game as a spectator, wasn't in the gym at the time Gathers collapsed and was acting as a Good Samaritan, a legal concept designed to protect doctors from malpractice suits when they are simply trying to help.