LOS ANGELES (CN) – Seventy-five retired football players sued the NFL for failing to protect them against head injuries from concussions. The players say the NFL “attacked” legitimate science for years and set up its own Brain Injury Committee to pooh-pooh the devastating effects of repeated concussions, though the league knew of the medical risks as early as the 1920s.
“For decades defendants have known that multiple blows to the head can lead to long-term brain injuries, including memory loss, dementia, depression and CTE [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy] and its related symptoms,” according to the complaint.
The players and their wives also sued helmet manufacturers, though the brunt of the 81-page Superior Court is directed at the NFL
Lead plaintiff Vernon Maxwell wants the NFL to pay damages for failing to “warn and protect NFL players such as plaintiffs against the long-term brain injury risks associated with football-related concussions.”
“NFL defendants committed negligence by failing to exercise its duty to enact league-wide guidelines and mandatory rules regulating post-concussion medical treatment and return-to-play standards for players who suffer a concussion and/or multiple concussions,” the complaint states.
“By failing to exercise its duty to enact reasonable and prudent rules to protect players against the risks associated with repeated brain trauma, the NFL’s failure to exercise its independent duty led to the deaths of some, and brain injuries of many former players, including plaintiffs.”
The complaint then lists 36 reports backing this up, from the 1890s, when a Navy doctor told Admiral Joseph “Bull” Reeves that “he could risk death or insanity if he received another kick to his head;” to a comment from Glenn “Pop” Warner in 1913, that he had “many times seen cases when hard bumps on the head so dazed the player receiving them that he lost his memory for a time and had to be removed from the game;” to reports for the next century from a raft of medical and scientific journals, on topics such as “concussion amnesia,” the “brains of boxers,” “insidious dementia following head injury,” and “Brain Damage in Sport.”
The retired players say the NFL formed its “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee” in 1994 “to purportedly study the effects of concussions on NFL players,” but actually did it to dispute scientific consensus on concussions.
“The NFL-funded study is completely devoid of logic and science,” the players say. “More importantly, it is contrary to their Health and Safety Rules as well as 75 years of published medical literature on concussions.”
Citing a conclusion from the NFL committee that would make a scientist gag, the complaint states: “After 14 years of purported studies, and after numerous medical journal articles were written by the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (the ‘NFL’s Brain Injury Committee’), concluded the ‘[b]ecause a significant percentage of players returned to play in the same game [as they suffered a mild traumatic brain injury] and the overwhelming majority of players with concussions were kept out of football-related activities for less than 1 week, it can be concluded that mild TBI’s in professional football are not serious injuries.’
“According to the NFL’s own committee, the speedy return to play after suffering a concussion demonstrates that such players were not at a greater risk of suffering long-term brain injury.”
The complaint follows that up with the statement: “The NFL-funded study is completely devoid of logic and science.”
The complaint adds: “Between 2002 and 2005, a series of clinical and neuropathological studies performed by independent scientists and physicians demonstrated that multiple NFL induced-concussions cause cognitive problems such as depression, early onset dementia and CTE and its related symptoms.
“In response to these studies, the NFL, to further a scheme of fraud and deceit, had members of the NFL’s Brain Injury Committee deny knowledge of a link between concussion and cognitive decline and claim that more time was needed to reach a definitive conclusion on the issue.
“When the NFL’s Brain Injury Committee anticipated studies that would implicate casual links between concussion and cognitive degeneration it promptly published articles producing contrary findings, although false, distorted and deceiving as part of the NFL’s scheme to deceive Congress, the players and the public at large.”
From 2002 to 2007, Dr. Bennett Omalu examined brain tissue of dead NLF players, including Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andrew Waters and Justin Strzelczyk, and wrote an article for “Neurosurgery” that “concluded that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (‘CTE’) triggered by multiple NFL concussions represented a partial cause of their deaths,” according to the complaint.
In response, “the NFL acting thru [sic] the NFL’s Brain Injury Committee, Drs. Ira Casson, Elliott Pellman and David Viano wrote a letter to the editor of ‘Neurosurgery’ asking that Dr. Omalu’s letter be retracted.”
In 2005, the retirees say, the NFL Brain Injury Committee “attacked” a clinical study by Dr. Kevin Guskiewisz that “found that retired players who sustained three or more concussions in the NFL had a five-fold prevalence of mild cognitive impairment,” the complaint states. “The NFL’s Brain Injury Committee, Dr. Mark Lowell, [sic] promptly attacked the article by refusing to accept a survey of 2,400 former NFL players.”
To the extent it did anything to protect players at all, the retirees say, it was “because of congressional scrutiny and media pressure.” Because of this pressure, the players say, the NFL called a “Concussion Summit” in June 2007.
After this “summit,” the players say: “Unfortunately, the NFL in keeping with its scheme of fraud and deceit issued a pamphlet to players in August 2007, which stated ‘there is no magic number for how many concussions is too many.’
“When Boston University’s Dr. Ann McKee found CTE in the brains of two more deceased NFL players in 2008, Dr. Ira Casson characterized each study as an ‘isolated incident’ from which no conclusion could be drawn. …
“It was not until June of 2010 that the NFL warned any player of the long term risks associated with multiple concussions.”
The complaint then lists the long-term suffering of dozens of NFL players and their families, and says the NFL treatment of them before, during and after their repeated injuries goes “beyond negligence.”
The players seek punitive damages for negligence, negligence-monopolist and fraud from the NFL, and liability and failure to warn from the helmet makers, and loss of consortium from all defendants.
Helmet-maker defendants include Riddell Sports Group, All American Sports Corp., and Easton-Bell Sports.
The players’ lead counsel is Thomas Girardi with Girardi Keese who filed suit for negligence, fraud, strict liability, failure to warn and loss of consortium.