NEW YORK — Nearly four years after boxer Magomed Abdusalamov suffered brain damage from a bout in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, New York State has agreed to pay him and his family $22 million in what is believed to be the largest personal injury settlement the state ever has made.
Court of Claims Judge Jeanette Rodriguez-Morick approved the agreement on Friday.
After his fight on Nov. 2, 2013, the Abdusalamov family filed suit alleging recklessness, gross negligence and medical malpractice by the New York State Athletic Commission, NYSAC staff and the doctors it retained to work that night. The complaint said improper care crucially delayed diagnosis and treatment of a developing blood clot in Abdusalamov’s brain. He underwent emergency surgery, suffered multiple strokes, was in a coma for weeks and was hospitalized for more than 10 months, including in-patient rehabilitation.
An inspector general’s report stated the New York State Athletic Commission “failed to carry out its responsibilities” during the bout that left heavyweight Magomed Abdusalam partially paralyzed.
The family of brain-damaged Russian heavyweight boxer Magomed Abdusalamov filed a lawsuit Wednesday against multiple parties — including five New York State Athletic Commission doctors — alleging recklessness, gross negligence and medical malpractice.
Former heavyweight boxer Magomed Abdusalamov and his young family confront profound challenges each day due to brain injuries he sustained in 2013.
Now 36, Abdusalamov remains paralyzed on his right side and unable to walk. His speech is mostly limited to mumbling, but despite doctors telling her he’d likely never talk again, his wife, Bakanay, said he now occasionally delivers fully formed words with clarity. She cares for him and their three daughters — ages 11, 8 and 4 — in a Connecticut house provided by a friend.
Abdusalamov was paid $40,000 for the fight and had the mandatory minimum $10,000 insurance policy. A year-and-a-half later, the incapacitated ex-boxer and his family were more than $2 million in debt, according to a 2015 court filing.
After a 32-month investigation, the state inspector general released a 48-page report last year that excoriated NYSAC for mishandling Abdusalamov and for an array of systemic problems, including its approach to medical emergencies.
The Abdusalamov family’s attorney, Paul Edelstein, characterized the $22 million settlement to ESPN’s Outside the Lines as “the state taking responsibility for its actions and paying an appropriate amount for the damages caused — it was handled by the attorney general’s office and Assistant AG Ross Herman in an extraordinarily professional and empathetic way.”
Bakanay Abdusalamova told OTL through an interpreter that when she was told of the impending settlement, “I was depressed for a few days, because I always thought by this time Mago would be better and our normal life would return … but I came to the realization that although we can’t bring back the Mago of before, this will really help us make his and our family’s life better and we can pay to get him more treatment without depending on others.”
A heavyweight title contender from the Russian Republic of Dagestan, the left-handed Abdusalamov was 18-0 and opponent Mike Perez was 19-0 at the start of their 10-round fight televised by HBO. From the first round, when Perez staggered him with a quick left forearm to the face, Abdusalamov appeared to have trouble breathing out of his nose. Perez went on to win a unanimous decision, and Abdusalamov’s face was left a bloody, swollen mess.
In a 2014 Outside the Lines report, Abdusalamov’s handlers said he told ringside physicians in the dressing room after the fight that his head hurt. The doctors examined him, sutured a gash above his left eye and advised that he have a suspected facial fracture X-rayed — following his planned return to Florida, where he and his family lived at the time. They did not send him to a local hospital in New York, although they had an ambulance at their disposal.
After the doctors left the dressing room, the NYSAC inspector assigned to monitor Abdusalamov found blood in his urine sample and suggested that he go by taxi to a hospital. While Abdusalamov’s interpreter tried to hail a cab, the increasingly unsteady 6-foot-3, 231-pound boxer was also outside the Garden, vomiting. Once inside the emergency room, he lost consciousness.
The inspector general’s investigation found that NYSAC chief medical officer Barry Jordan bore some responsibility for the confusion when Abdusalamov became ill post-fight and that inspector Matt Farrago’s training and actions were lacking. The settlement finalized Friday does not contain a reference to the IG’s findings or an admission by the state, which employed and represented Jordan and Farrago, but the Abdusalamov family dropped its claims against them as part of the agreement.
The IG’s report recommended reforms to NYSAC, the agency overseeing boxing in the state and mixed martial arts events, which were legalized there in 2016. Last year the state also enacted a controversial $1 million traumatic brain injury insurance requirement for boxing and MMA participants, reportedly the nation’s highest.
The state is to pay $10 million into structured settlement annuities for Abdusalamov, $10 million into an account overseen by his court-appointed property guardian (to handle financial obligations, including legal fees) and $2 million to his wife for loss of services and consortium.
“I would trade all of the money to just bring back Mago as he was,” Abdusalamova said, “but that’s not how it works, it cannot buy the happiness we had.”
In May, Abdusalamova posted a video on Instagram of her husband smiling as his daughters cheerfully arm wrestled on a tray table over his home hospital bed.
“For a long time he was crying a lot, clearly not in good spirits, but anti-depressant medication has been of some help controlling that,” she said.
The settlement agreement states that the family does not release its claims against Anthony Curreri, Osric King and Gerard Varlotta, the doctors who examined and attended to Abdusalamov on fight night at the Garden, before, during and after the bout. Referee Benjy Esteves Jr. is also named.
“The three ringside physicians had primary responsibility and we’re not going to stop until they acknowledge it,” Edelstein said. “Their malpractice insurance carriers’ lawyers apparently don’t see the case the way the inspector general and attorney general do.”
Added Edelstein on pursuing the case in state supreme court: “I’m obviously very pleased about the settlement with the state that provides for Mago and his family, but having these doctors testify in open court may be the best way to show how grievous this was and how screwed up the system of caring for athletes is in an admittedly dangerous sport.”