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NFL Concussion Lawsuit Information

Dave Duerson reportedly shot himself in the chest instead of the head so that he could die without damaging his brain. As a retired football player, Duerson suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brought about by the concussions he suffered during his career.

According to the complaint filed in the so-called "NFL Concussion Lawsuit," Duerson had been suffering from months of headaches, blurred vision, and memory loss.

He wanted his brain to be studied so what he suspected could be proven—that the symptoms he suffered and the abusive behavior it brought on during the final months of his life were a result of the bashing his brain took over the course of his 11-year National Football League career.

An autopsy of his brain revealed significant signs of trauma, including advanced CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease. It's caused by repeated blows to the head, like being in a car accident. Based on this result, researchers concluded what scientific evidence had indicated for decades. Playing football can cause irreparable and incurable brain trauma.

In 2012, more than 4,500 retired players, family members, and representatives filed the class action NFL Concussion Lawsuit. They sued the NFL for compensation for former players' neurological deterioration and the recognition that it came as a result of playing NFL football.

The Lawsuit

The NFL concussion lawsuit, which has since been settled, contained many allegations against the league. Two such allegations were that the NFL:

  1. Knew about the long-term health risks associated with concussions; and
  2. Ignored and concealed this information to protect the economic value of the game

Some of the theories of liability in the master complaint filed with the court include allegations that:

  • The NFL was negligent. It had a duty to protect its players from the dangers associated with repeated concussions and hits to the head. The NFL's failure to do so has caused long-term brain damage to its players.
  • From the 1950s on, the NFL concealed and denied the dangers of repetitive head impacts.

The plaintiffs also asserted a product liability claim against Riddell, the company that makes football helmets, for:

  1. Defectively designing players' helmets; and
  2. Failing to warn players about the helmets' inability to protect them

In 2015, the NFL concussion lawsuit was settled for an estimated $1 billion. These claimants claimed that the negligence and concealment by the NFL resulted in long-term brain damage to its players. This manifested in various neurological impairments such as:

  • CTE
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Early dementia
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

The Beaten Brain: Players' Neurological Damage

The master complaint alleged that players suffered repetitive traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, during NFL games. As a result, players reportedly suffered symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Dementia
  • Mood swings
  • ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease)

This brain deterioration may have contributed to the deaths of many NFL players. For example, before former linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide at age 43, he began having fits of unprovoked anger. He started gambling uncharacteristically.

Before he died at age 50, Mike Webster, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers center, suffered from insomnia. He required being tasered so he could fall asleep.

After former defensive back Andre Waters committed suicide at age 44, doctors said his baseline brain tissue had deteriorated to that of an 85-year-old man with early-stage Alzheimer's disease.

In the years following the settlement, two Black retired NFL players, Najeh Davenport and Kevin Henry, sued the NFL again, alleging racial discrimination in the concussion settlement program. They claimed that the NFL race-corrected their neurological exams. This prevented them from being compensated.

This process assumed that players being evaluated for neurocognitive impairment started with worse cognitive function if they were Black. US District Judge Anita Brody eventually dismissed their lawsuit. She ordered a mediator to address concerns about how race correction was being used.

In June 2023, modifications to the NFL's concussion agreement settlement were approved. This ended the use of race norms and demographic estimates based on race for scoring diagnostic tests. Black retired players who were denied payments for dementia can now have their previous tests rescored or file new claims. This is a significant victory for Black NFL retirees.

As of June 2023, the NFL settlement program summary report revealed that 2,078 of 3,322 monetary awards had been paid for early to moderate dementia (level 1.5 neurocognitive impairment claims). More than 920 claims in those categories have been denied for various reasons. The NFL has paid out more than $944 million as part of the program.

The NFL signed an agreement in 2017 to compensate 17,200 registered league retirees for the treatment of diagnosed neurological disorders. The proposed fund totaled $675 million and covered claims for 65 years. This includes compensation for not only CTE but also for Parkinson's disease and ALS.

Former players or their representatives have filed 113 Parkinson's and 42 ALS claims. Of these, 81 Parkinson's and 30 ALS claims have been paid or approved by the NFL, totaling $146.5 million. There is a projection that the total will amount to $1.4 billion. This is far higher than the original projection.

Research has indicated that repeated trauma to the head from playing football may increase the likelihood of developing neurological disorders. This finding is supported by a study conducted on military veterans over a 12-year period. It is also supported by a CDC study examining the death certificates for 3,439 NFL retirees who played at least five years in the league from 1959 to 1988. These studies showed that veterans with previous brain injuries were more likely to develop Parkinson's disease. NFL retirees were four times more likely to die from ALS than members of the general population.

Effects on the Rest of Us

Since the NFL concussion lawsuit began, the NFL has continued to:

  1. Change rules to enhance safety
  2. Fund brain injury research
  3. Create youth football programs that teach kids proper tackling

Equipment manufacturers evolve helmets to reduce the effects of hits to the head. Whether any of this can improve safety in a game that requires violent contact on every play is unknown.

The effects of concussions and hits to the head are not limited to the NFL. Research shows that high school and college football players have suffered brain injuries like those of NFL players. Youth football leagues, high schools, colleges, and their equipment providers may one-day face liability for head trauma caused by the game. While parents and children may assume the risk of injuries, long-term brain injuries may be outside of such contemplated risks.

The NFL maintains that more research is needed to determine the effects on the brain from playing professional football. Those currently playing will likely accept the risks of head injuries as part of their lives. The question is whether parents will feel comfortable waiting for greater certainty.

If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury in the course of playing sports, you may be entitled to an injury claim. Consulting an experienced personal injury attorney is the best way to protect your legal rights and preserve your right to a payout.

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