The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear a claim by the family of Len Bias that agents for the University of Maryland basketball star violated their promise to obtain a
$1 million life insurance policy before Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.
The district court and appeals courts had thrown out the lawsuit by Bias's father, James Bias, against Advantage International and A. Lee Fentress, the basketball player's agent and financial adviser. The Bias family claimed the agents had wrongly led the family to believe the insurance had been obtained.
The lower courts agreed with the agents' argument that Bias was "uninsurable" because he was a cocaine user and that they were therefore not liable for failing to get the insurance.
The district court, in a ruling upheld by the appeals court, said no insurer in 1986 would have issued such a "jumbo" policy to a cocaine user unless he lied about his use of drugs -- which would have made the policy void.
It cited the eyewitness testimony of Bias's former teammates, Terry Long and David Gregg, who described numerous occasions when they saw Bias use cocaine. Long and Gregg testified at the trial of Brian Lee Tribble, who was acquitted in 1987 of supplying the cocaine that led to Bias's death.
Tribble pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to distribute cocaine in an unrelated case and is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Bias's family argued that the court should have allowed the case to proceed to trial rather than granting summary judgment.
Attorneys for the estate dismissed the teammates' testimony as "patently unreliable and self-interested" and noted there were conflicting affidavits from Bias's parents and his coach, Lefty Driesell, who said they had never known him to use drugs. They also said Bias had taken several drug tests that showed no traces of cocaine.
The estate also claimed Advantage and Fentress were liable for failing to conclude a contract with Reebok shoes the day before Bias's death under which he would have received a lump-sum payment of $175,000. The lower courts found that the contract would have had to have been approved by Reebok's legal department and could not have been signed that day.
Bias died as he was celebrating his selection by the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association draft. His death tarnished the University of Maryland's reputation and triggered intense scrutiny of collegiate sports programs, while heightening public awareness of the dangers of cocaine.
Also yesterday, the court disbarred former Washington communications lawyer Thomas L. Root from appearing before it. Root, who had already been disbarred by the D.C. Court of Appeals, survived a bizarre ocean plane crash in which he suffered a gunshot wound.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison on securities fraud and conspiracy charges in North Carolina last month and has pleaded guilty in federal court here to counterfeiting, forgery and defrauding clients.