A Kentucky university has agreed to pay $14 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a student wrestler who died of heat stroke after a practice in August 2020.
Grant Brace, 20, a wrestler at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., about 100 miles south of Lexington, died a few hours after he begged for water during practice, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.
A lawyer for Mr. Brace’s parents, Kyle and Jacqueline Brace, and his sister, Kaylee Wagnon, said that they were “relieved and very satisfied” that the university had been held accountable in civil court.
“The amount of money paid clearly sends a message about the level of wrongdoing, not only by the coaches, but the university itself,” said the lawyer, James Moncus, in an email.
The university said in a statement that it believed it could defend itself against the claims made in the family’s lawsuit but wanted to avoid a “long, difficult and costly” court process.
The University of the Cumberlands chancellor, Jerry Jackson, said in a statement that Mr. Brace was “a talented, well-liked young man entering his junior year with a bright future ahead of him.”
“Our University community continues to mourn his untimely loss,” Mr. Jackson said. “We sincerely hope that resolving this matter early in the legal process will offer the Brace family a measure of peace and healing.”
Mr. Brace was from Louisville, Tenn., and was majoring in business administration, the school said. He had graduated from Alcoa High School in Alcoa, Tenn., where he wrestled, played football and was in the National Honor Society.
His family’s lawsuit said that doctors had prescribed Adderall to Mr. Brace to treat his A.D.H.D. and narcolepsy and had said that while using the drug, it was critical that he stay hydrated.
The university had said accommodations would be made for his hydration needs and medical condition, according to the suit.
On Aug. 31, 2020, the school’s wrestling team started practice by running on a track, then were told to sprint up and down “punishment hill,” a steep incline, seven times, according to the suit.
The temperature that day reached a high of 83 degrees at the London-Corbin Airport, which is about 30 miles from the university, according to the National Weather Service.
During the sprints, Mr. Brace stopped and said he was exhausted. A coach, Jordan Countryman, responded by saying he was kicked off the team and should return to the wrestling room, the suit said.
Mr. Brace started to sprint again but then said he could not continue.
Mr. Countryman is no longer a coach at the university, and he and his lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
In the wrestling room after practice, Mr. Brace “laid on the wrestling mat begging for water,” the suit said.
The coaches yelled at students who tried to help him, and as Mr. Brace’s mental health deteriorated, which is a symptom of heat stroke, the coaches told him to leave the wrestling room, according to the suit.
He searched for help outside but collapsed and was found dead on the campus at least 45 minutes after he had left the room, the suit said.
“He was found with his hands clasping into the grass and soil,” the suit said.
Under the settlement, the school is required to participate in heat-illness training with a doctor and to promote the family’s efforts to raise awareness of heat-related illnesses, including exertional heat stroke, which is caused by intense physical activity.
Signs of heat stroke include nausea, incoherence, weakness, cramps, flushed appearance and unsteadiness, according to a 2022 report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina.
The center said that from 2017 to 2021, there were an average of 2.4 exertional heat stroke deaths per year, an increase from 1.4 per year in the previous five-year period. Exertional heat stroke deaths are preventable with proper precautions, early recognition and emergency management, the report said.
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