Wrongful death lawsuits against the National Football League (NFL) have been multiplying with one of the most recent filed by the wife and sons of the late San Diego Chargers running back Paul Oliver. The Oliver suit was filed in late September against the football league, the Chargers, the New Orleans Saints and several helmet manufacturers.
Paul Oliver committed suicide in September 2013 at age 29 at his home in Georgia in the presence of his family. A pathologist confirmed after his death that Oliver was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in athletes who experience repetitive head trauma which causes memory loss, depression and dementia.
The suit alleges that Oliver’s death was a direct result of the injuries, depression and emotional suffering caused by head trauma and concussions suffered as a result of playing football. The suit contends the NFL and others knew for decades about risks associated with such injuries but concealed the information leaving Oliver ignorant about the risks of play.
The lawsuit also claims the NFL encourages players to disregard the results of violent head impacts and glorifies the brutality and ferocity of football as a marketing strategy.
Recent actuarial data released by the NFL in a class action lawsuit against it estimated nearly 3 in 10 players will develop debilitating brain conditions.
Junior Seau’s family files wrongful death suit
A wrongful death suit against the NFL and helmet manufacturer, Riddell, was filed in January 2013 in the death of Junior Seau, an NFL linebacker for 20 years who retired in 2009. Seau died in May 2012 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 43. His family reported wild behavior swings and signs of irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression. Based on posthumous tests, Seau was also diagnosed with CTE. The suit filed in California Superior Court blames the NFL for acts of omission that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head.
“The NFL knew or suspected that any rule changes that sought to recognize that link (to brain disease) and the health risk to NFL players would impose an economic cost that would significantly and adversely change the profit margins enjoyed by the NFL,” the Seaus said in their suit.
CTE cropped up again after the violent death of 25-year-old Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher who killed his girlfriend and himself in December 2012. A professor of pathology and dean of research at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City, Dr. Piotr Kozlowski, wrote an autopsy report based on analysis of Belcher’s brain and linked his findings to CTE.
Objections to a proposed NFL settlement for brain injuries
Former Chicago Bears safety, Dave Duerson, who fatally shot himself in 2011 at age 50, was diagnosed with CTE after his death.
Thomas Demetrio, a lawyer for the estate of Duerson, is objecting to a settlement with the NFL. He labels the NFL proposal an insult to Duerson’s legacy. An objection was filed in federal court on October 14, 2014 in behalf of Duerson’s estate and nine other former players.
Under the tentative settlement, the NFL is proposing claims for CTE diagnosis after death would be eligible for up to $4 million if the player is diagnosed at an age younger than 45. Those players between age 50 to 54 at diagnosis could be awarded $2.3 million.
“The NFL is saying no more payments for CTE into the future,” Demetrio said. He claims 15,000 to 16,000 players may someday acquire CTE, and they would not be compensated under this lawsuit.
This article was written by Attorney James W. Slater of the Akron, Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP.
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