Commentary by Sam Spital, San Diego Personal Injury Attorney:
“In the UT San Diego digital edition on January 24, 2013 it was reported the family of Junior Seau, a former Chargers Football player filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the National Football League and Ridddell, Inc. the manufacturer of official helmets for the NFL since 1989. The Superior Court lawsuit alleges the NFL knew for decades of the harmful effects of heat injuries on a player’s brain, and further the league ‘actively concealed these facts from the players and the public.’ In the lawsuit, the family also claimed negligence in the ‘design, testing, assembly, manufacture, marketing and engineering’ of the official NFL helmets.
On May 2, 2012, Junior Seau, a 43 year old Chargers linebacker, died of a self-inflicted gunshot. The article revealed Seau’s family and friends reported in the 29 months before his death, Seau suffered from multiple medical and psychological problems, naming alcoholism, gambling, sex addiction, depression, anxiety, insomnia and business failures that put him close to filing bankruptcy. After the family donated his brain to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), chronic traumatic encephalopathy and also known as boxer’s dementia (CTE) was discovered. This is a progressive and degenerative disease that most often is diagnosed after an autopsy in individuals with a history of multiple concussions.
The reporter interviewed attorneys for the NFL, but they issued a statement as is most often appropriate by saying they would respond ‘through the court’ system and not though the news media. It is likely they will argue, however, that Seau was never diagnosed with a concussion during his career as a football player and the plaintiffs cannot establish causation (a causal link between playing football and the alleged injuries sustained). While devastating injuries and deaths have soared, there may also be questions raised by the defense as to whether the players assumed the risk and/or signed a release of liability prior to engaging in this as in most other sports.
On the other hand, the plaintiffs may respond by arguing warnings were inadequate at best, and any waiver of claims were no more than adhesion contracts (take it or leave it since the players did not have the power to negotiate the terms). At this time, there currently are about 4000 claimants in a class-action lawsuit filed against both the NFL and Riddell. In addition, during the last approximate seven (7) years, CTE has been found present in nearly every case in which an autopsy has been performed on former football players. These are heart wrenching cases, and we can only speculate as to whether it is possible to make football a safer sport.”