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Dispute may disrupt proposed settlement in video game lawsuits

Video gaming giant Electronic Arts has been embroiled in several lawsuits over the use of likenesses and names of college athletes. Most of those lawsuits are involved in a proposed settlement, but that may be in jeopardy after one of the litigants has requested a change of counsel.

Ryan Hart, who was a quarterback for Rutgers, has retained another attorney to represent him, according to media reports. The previous legal team has filed notice with the New Jersey federal district court that they no longer want to keep Hart as the primary plaintiff. This way, the proposed settlement can continue to move forward. The attorneys said in the filing that Hart's interests are now conflicting with the other members of the class action lawsuit. They want to replace Hart with three other plaintiffs who played college football.

Hart's new attorney, however, said that he and his client plan to oppose this move. Should the proposed settlement be allowed to continue, Collegiate Licensing Co. and EA will pay $40 million to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The settlement will end three lawsuits.

Hart's lawsuit was filed in June 2009 in a New Jersey state court. His suit initially had another player listed as the plaintiffs, but an amended suit was filed in October 2009 where Hart was listed as the only plaintiff. Hart's case would be moved to federal court in November 2009. The case would eventually be dismissed, but Hart's attorneys were able to get it reinstated through the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The proposed settlement is a result of that reinstatement, as well as negotiations in other similar cases.

It will be interesting to see what the ruling of the court will be: Will Hart be allowed to remain as the primary plaintiff in the case with his new attorney? In addition, questions are certainly likely as to whether this will cause problems with the proposed settlements. It reiterates that nothing is ever guaranteed during business litigation cases until the final paperwork is signed.

Source: usatoday.com, "Deal in EA name-and-likeness lawsuits triggers dispute" Steve Berkowitz, Oct. 05, 2013

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