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Brain Injury Suit Settles for $5.1M; NFL Studies Cited

By Andrew Lu on November 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Illinois man has won a $5.1 million settlement in a brain injury suit that cited NFL studies about the effects of concussions.

In 2005, 56-year-old Willie Wakefield worked as a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning worker at a construction site in Chicago. As he worked, a pile of lumber fell three stories from a forklift and struck him on the head, reports the Daily Herald.

Following the accident, Wakefield claimed that he'd suffered a concussion that diminished his capacity for memory and learning. To help prove his claim, Wakefield's lawyer turned to the NFL.

Wakefield's brain injury lawsuit cited "cutting-edge" studies on NFL players' brains, which concluded that a single concussion could cause someone to suffer symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease. It is this research that has helped shape current NFL guidelines on traumatic head injuries, Wakefield's lawyer told the Herald.

Given the single incident of lumber falling on his head, the defendants may have argued that Wakefield failed to adequately prove causation: in other words, that the accident led to Wakefield's decreased memory and learning capacity.

However, the NFL research may have helped bridge this gap by proving that a single traumatic injury can be enough to cause symptoms similar to Wakefield's.

Often in personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs lose a case because they fail to prove causation -- the link between a defendant's actions and the claimed injury. This is especially true in cases where the symptoms do not appear immediately, but happen over the course of several years.

Defendants may argue that something else, or simply the course of nature, caused the injuries. After all, people do sometimes suffer diminished mental capacity without lumber falling on their heads.

Even more often, personal injury suits lead to out-of-court resolutions. Thanks in part to the NFL study that arguably linked the accident to his injury, Wakefield was able to obtain a multimillion-dollar settlement.

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