Settlement reached in lawsuit against Ky. college after death of wrestler during practice

The University of the Cumberlands has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of a student who died during wrestling practice.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 2:25 PM CDT
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WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. (WKYT/WYMT) - The University of the Cumberlands has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of a student who died during wrestling practice.

Grant Brace, 20, from Louisville, Tenn., died on August 31, 2020, from heat stroke, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed Brace’s death “was tragic and entirely avoidable.”

The lawsuit said Brace was diagnosed with narcolepsy and ADHD and was prescribed Adderall which requires maintaining hydration.

According to a report by the Herald Leader, on Aug. 31, 2020, the wrestling team had its first training day of the season, led by then-head coach Jordan Countryman and assistant coach Jake Sinkovics. After practice, the team had “punishment practice” on the “punishment hill,” which required the athletes to sprint up and down a steep hill for seven circuits. Brace completed numerous circuits and then sat down out of exhaustion.

According to the suit, Countryman threatened to kick Brace off the wrestling team. Grant ran up the hill again and was later heard saying “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”

A fellow student-athlete attempted to get Brace water, but Countryman refused.

The lawsuit stated Brace begged, “I need water, somebody help me.” He also said he felt like his pupils were shaking. He said, “I feel like I am going to die, I feel like my head is going to explode” and “Please help me, you promised you would help me.”

Countryman and Sinkovics did not contact the trainer or emergency medical personnel or give Brace water, according to the lawsuit.

The report claims Brace began to say nonsensical statements, including that he was going to “leave in a big parade” and “I ate a fork on Sunday.” His medical condition continued to deteriorate consistent with signs of heat stroke. The lawsuit stated Brace began speaking loudly and using curse words. He also charged and tackled a fellow member of the wrestling team. The coaches screamed at Brace to get out.

Brace left to find assistance and water. He ran to an outdoor water fountain that was not working. He also tried to get into a building but could not.

Brace collapsed and died, the lawsuit said.

About 45 minutes after Brace left practice, Countryman and Sinkovics began looking for him. Brace was found dead with his hands clenched in the grass and dirt, according to the suit.

Among other things, Countryman and Sinkovics were accused of gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The settlement includes monetary payments exceeding $14 million, the university’s agreement to engage in a heat-illness training project to be conducted by a nationally recognized expert in the field, and promotion of the Brace family’s ongoing work to help raise awareness of heat-related injuries.

In a press release about the settlement, the university said it believed it could defend the claims asserted in the lawsuit, but “the legal process would have been long, difficult, and costly, ending years from now in a trial with an uncertain outcome.”

According to the Herald Leader, Countryman and Sinkovics are no longer employed by the university.