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 has made.
Court of Claims Judge Jeanette Rodriguez-Morick approved the agreement on Friday.
After Abdusalamov's fight on Nov. 2, 2013, his 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.
Now 36, Abdusalamov remains paralyzed on his right side and unable to walk. His speech is mostly limited to mumbling. His wife, Bakanay Abdusalamova, said doctors told her he'd likely never talk again, but now he 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 received the full $10,000 payout from a mandatory minimum 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 the NYSAC for mishandling Abdusalamov's care 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."
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 in 2013. From the first round, when Perez staggered Abdusalamov 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 -- after his planned return to Florida, where he and his family lived at the time. The doctors 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 outside the Garden, the increasingly unsteady 6-foot-3, 231-pound boxer was nearby, 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 postfight and that NYSAC inspector Matt Farrago's training and actions were lacking. The settlement finalized Friday does not contain a reference to the inspector general'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 inspector general's report recommended reforms to the NYSAC, the agency overseeing boxing and mixed martial arts events in the state, 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 antidepressant medication has been of some help controlling that," she said.
A countersuit filed by the state against Abdusalamov's former trainer, manager, interpreter and promoters is no longer active.
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."