SAN DIEGO (CN) - Junior Seau's family sued the NFL and helmet-makers for wrongful death, claiming that greed for profits kept the league from warning players about the dangers of multiple concussions.
Seau, a popular linebacker for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, shot himself last year. He was 43.
His sons Tyler, Jake and Hunter and daughter Sydney, sued the National Football League, NFL Properties, and helmet-makers Riddell Sports Group, All American Sports, Easton Bell Sports, and affiliates in Superior Court.
They seek punitive damages for fraud, fraudulent concealment, wrongful death, negligence and other counts.
Hundreds or thousands of active and retired pro football players have joined class actions claiming the NFL failed to protect them from head injuries from concussions and repeat concussions.
The NFL has been accused of attacking legitimate science for years, even establishing its own committee to underplay the devastating effects of repeated concussions.
Players claim the league knew of the medical risks as early as the 1920s.
Junior Seau was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy when he committed suicide in May 2012, by shooting himself in the chest.
In their complaint, his family says that "innumerable blows directly to his head" caused his depression and suicide.
Known for his aggressive and ebullient playing style, Seau, a 10-time All-Pro linebacker, was nicknamed the Tasmanian Devil.
"For many decades evidence has linked repetitive mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) to long-term neurological problems. The NFL was aware of the evidence and the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries for many decades but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from the players including the late Junior Seau," according to the 56-page complaint.
By the early 90s, the NFL knew that football players were at risk from repeated "dings," or subconcussive injuries, and concussions, Seau's family says.
Though the NFL publicly portrayed itself as "the unilateral guardian of player safety," it was more interested in marketing the "ferocity and brutality of the sport," the Seaus say.
"Instead of adhering to these duties, the NFL produced industry-funded, biased, and falsified research that claimed that concussive and sub-concussive head impacts in football do not present serious, life-altering risks. The NFL also actively sought to suppress the findings of other members of the medical community that showed the link between on-field sub-concussive and concussive head impacts and post-career neurocognitive damage, illness and decline," the complaint states.
The Seaus claim that Junior was a victim of the NFL's misrepresentations because he was "not armed with critical information necessary for his own safety."
"He suffered innumerable blows directly to his head during his NFL career, both sub-concussive and concussive. Several times he was hit in the head so hard that he sustained facial lacerations," the lawsuit states.
Even when Junior Seau took a hit and left the field dazed, he often returned to the game, his family says.
He suffered repeated concussion, dizziness, headaches, severe insomnia and forgetfulness, the complaint states. Eventually, he became "uncharacteristically self-destructive, aggressive and violent."
"He began to suffer extreme depression and became withdrawn from his family, including his children. The changes in behavior impacted his ability to relate to others. He became unable to maintain meaningful relationships with those whom he loved or to form any new meaningful relationships with others," according to the complaint.
Once a "warm and gentle" man, Junior Seau began to self-medicate, and became addicted to alcohol and gambling, the family says.
His problems, "including insomnia, depression, alcohol abuse, inability to relate to friends and family, irrational decisions, diminished cognitive function and gambling problems are all well-established effects of neurodegenerative injuries, including CTB [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy]. Tragically, on May 2, 2012, these injuries and the problems which were proximately caused by them, caused Junior Seau to take a gun and shoot himself in the chest, committing suicide," his family says.
They claim the NFL actively concealed the risks of traumatic brain injuries, exposing players such as Seau to "dangers they could have avoided."
"Junior Seau sustained numerous and repetitive injuries over his career while in the NFL and has been diagnosed by the National Institutes of Health to have been suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and related neurodegenerative disorders and diseases which were caused by the NFL's acts and/or omissions," the complaint states.
The family claims the NFL was motivated by greed.
"The NFL's motive to ignore and misrepresent the link between MTBI sustained in NFL play and neurocognitive injury and decline was economic. The NFL knew or suspected that any rule changes that sought to recognize that link and the health risk to NFL players would impose economic cost that would significantly and adversely change the profit margins enjoyed by the NFL and its teams," according to the complaint.
Seau's family is represented by Steven Strauss, with Cooley LLP.
NFL spokeswoman Clare Graff told Courthouse News that its lawyers would look at the case and "respond to the claims appropriately through the court."
NFL Players Association assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah said it was not a party to the lawsuit.
"I don't think it's appropriate for us to comment at this time," he wrote in a statement forwarded to Courthouse News.
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