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Deceased Player’s Mom Must Take Settlement

CHICAGO (CN) - An Illinois appellate court ruled that the mother of Northwestern University football player Rashidi Wheeler, who died during practice in August 2001, must accept a $16 million settlement with the university.

Linda Will, George Wheeler Jr., and Linda's son from another marriage, Hershel Will, filed a wrongful death and survival action against the university, former head coach Randy Walker and several employees, claiming defendants failed to prevent Rashidi's death. The 22-year-old senior safety collapsed during a conditioning drill and, according to the Cook County medical examiner, died from "exercise-induced bronchial asthma."

After years of lengthy litigation, the trial court approved a $16 million settlement despite Will's objection.

The university filed an oppositional brief contending, among other things, that Linda, Hershel and Wheeler lack standing to challenge the settlement.

The court held that the plaintiffs cannot sue in their individual capacities, but Linda has standing as the co-administrator of her son's estate.

Linda's rights on behalf of the estate "were not exclusive, as her powers as co-administrator were derivative of the powers of the court," Justice Fitzgerald Smith wrote. This affirmation of the court's authority to accept the settlement rendered moot NU's counterclaim for a reversal.

The appeals court also rejected plaintiffs' challenge to the one-third contingency granted to the firm Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Montgomery.

"As evidenced by Cochran's detailed fee petition, the firm spent approximately 1,965.8 hours on the underlying cause over a 3.5-year period, involving the time of 5 attorneys, 2 paralegals and 3 law clerks." See ruling.


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