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Attorney Announces Details of Lawsuit

April 21, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The family of the late Hank Gathers filed a $32.5 million lawsuit Friday against Loyola Marymount University, coach Paul Westhead and 12 others, accusing them of negligence in the basketball star’s death.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Gathers’ heart medication was reduced at Westhead’s request because the player’s performance was suffering; that Gathers was not made aware of the risk he faced if he continued to play basketball, and that he was not treated quickly enough when he collapsed March 4 during the Lions’ West Coast Conference tournament game.

Gathers, the nation’s leading scorer and rebounder a year earlier, died of heart disease hours later.

Loyola Marymount spokesman Joan Gaulene said university officials expect to be vindicated.

″Loyola Marymount University is deeply saddened by the charges leveled at the university and the university staff in the suit filed today by attorney Bruce Fagel on behalf of the family of Hank Gathers,″ she said in a statement. Gaulene said the university’s lawyers had not had enough time to review all the allegations and could not comment further.

Westhead said in a statement Friday: ″As his coach, I did my best for Hank Gathers. I was never part of the medical decisions concerning Hank. I did not decide what medication to prescribe or what dosage to take.

″I feel badly that my relationship with Hank and his family could be distorted with this legal action.″

Contained in the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, was the excerpt of a letter sent by one of Gathers’ doctors, Vernon Hattori, to another, Dr. Michael Mellman, on Jan. 29 stating that the initial dosage prescribed to control the player’s irregular heartbeat was reduced because he was not playing well.

Hattori was at lunch when Fagel’s news conference on the lawsuit ended, said a spokeswoman for his office exchange. Mellman’s whereabouts were not immediately known.

The letter stated that a dosage of 240 milligrams of Inderal a day almost completely controlled Gathers’ erratic heartbeat. But it went on to say, ″His dose was diminished ... after a rather dismal performance in his first game against Xavier. On a lower dose, he apparently performed incredibly against St. John’s. ...

″However, his performance was obviously still being unfavorably affected by his medication so I decreased his Inderal.″

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Gathers’ mother, Lucille; his brothers Derrick and Charles; and his aunt, Carole Livingston.

Hattori and Mellman are among the defendants, who also include Loyola Athletic Director Bryann Quinn, team trainer Chip Schaefer and a number of other doctors who treated Gathers.

Another part of the letter quoted in the lawsuit said that Hattori met with Gathers the week before his death and that the player said he was satisfied with his level of performance with the changes in medications.

″ ... Later on over the weekend I got a call from his coach, indicating that his athletic performance was still substantially sub-par and that he felt strongly that the medication should be changed.″

Hattori said in the letter that Gathers felt decreasing his dosage of Inderal would be preferable to changing medication, which could make him miss a game while he adjusted.

The last recorded dosage was 40 milligrams twice a day, far below the 240 milligrams initially prescribed.

Westhead has denied having any conversation in which he instructed that Gathers’ medication be reduced or changed.

″I don’t have a clue about medications. Why would I tell a doctor what is best for Hank Gathers?″ ESPN quoted Westhead on Thursday as saying.

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