A group of 38 former National Football League players have sued to force the NFL to pay them workers compensation benefits for the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) they say they developed as a result of head injuries they suffered while playing in NFL games.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale, asks the federal court to force the NFL to recognize CTE in living players as an occupational disease and pay the players benefits.
The suit filed by Tallahassee workers compensation attorney Tim Howard on Nov. 21 targets the NFL and its 32 teams individually as defendants.
It argues that declaratory relief is in order because the players, who are living with symptoms that are consistent with a diagnosis of CTE as a result of injuries, have strong reason to believe that the NFL will deny their workers compensation claims if they file individually, as the suit says the NFL has historically done.
Finding in favor of the plaintiffs will be “averting a guaranteed deluge of judicial and administrative entanglements” as the number of living payers diagnosed with CTE continues to grow, the suit claims.
The lawsuit also asks the court to declare that the NFL players’ collective bargaining agreement as well as state workers compensation laws must recognize CTE among professional athletes as a workers compensation-eligible disease.
It also seeks compensation for loss of consortium for the players’ spouses.
The players maintain that there is ample scientific and statistical evidence to prove a connection between CTE and head trauma but that the NFL has denied the science and the link while promoting “junk science” and refusing to pay CTE-related claims.
There is “undeniable evidence that CTE is arising in staggering numbers within the population of retired professional football players later in their lives,” according to the complaint, which adds that the “statistical and scientific evidence is very difficult to deny, even though many professional sports organizations have become expert at this craft.”
According to the filing, the NFL has also violated Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) guidelines by not forewarning players of the risk of the disease and by promoting “head banging” and using the “helmet as a weapon” in games. Meanwhile, the NFL has been “spinning and publishing distorted science that trivializes and denies” the link with CTE, the players allege.
The NFL had not responded to a request for reaction by press time.
The suit says some individual NFL executives in “dribs and drabs” have come around to acknowledge the CTE connection but that as an organization the NFL still denies it.
The players claim they are permanently and totally disabled as a result of having CTE. They claim they have sustained “excessive and undue occupational head trauma” and that the NFL “routinely failed to care for plaintiffs’ repetitive head injuries during their careers in any medically competent or meaningful manner.”
The players living with CTE say they can’t work and are financially destitute due to insomnia, depression, mood swings, memory loss, deterioration of motor and spatial skills, and other effects of CTE.
The suit alleges that the NFL has ignored proof that CTE is an “irreversible, progressive and fatal degenerative disease of brain tissue that is directly linked to repeated severe head trauma.”
In support of its argument, the suit cites CTE research from Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania and reported advances in diagnostic tools that make it possible to detect CTE in living patients. CTE has only been identified to date after autopsies on dead patients.
The players allege that the NFL has been handling the CTE health crisis the way Big Tobacco did smoking claims and has even hired lobbyists and lawyers who represented Big Tobacco.
Among the players participating in the workers compensation lawsuit are Tony Gaiter, New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers, 1997-1998; Sedrick Irvin, Detroit Lions, 1999-2001; Warren Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1988-1992; Henri Crockett, Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings, 1997-2003; Ernest Givens, Houston Oilers, 1986-1994; Dexter Carter, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, 1990-1995; Tracy Scroggins, Detroit Lions, 1992-2000; William Floyd, Carolina Panthers, 1998-2000; and Quinn Gray, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs, 2003-2008.
The NFL has agreed to a $1 billion class action concussion settlement with families of players who died and retired players currently suffering from brain damage. That settlement was approved by courts about a year ago and has widespread support among players. However, it has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by a small group of players who argue it does not address players who are likely to develop CTE but do not yet show symptoms.
*This story appeared previously in our sister publication Insurance Journal.