“Iron Mike” Webster played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974-1988 and the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989-1990, and played in 245 games during his career. He died at the age of 50 in 2002 from a heart attack. At his death, Iron Mike was suffering from dementia, self-mutilating, and living out of his pickup truck. A doctor named Bennet Omalu performed his autopsy, which showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Dr. Omalu examined the remains of several other former NFL players who had similar symptoms to Iron Mike, including Terry Long, Andre Waters, and Justin Strzelczyk. He presented his findings to the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, but was largely ignored until Chris Henry of the Cincinatti Bengals died in 2006 at age 26 due to CTE.
Will Smith and Alec Baldwin starred in a December 2015 movie, “Concussion,” which detailed Dr. Omalu’s findings and his struggle to be taken seriously by the NFL. In April 2015, a federal district court judge approved a class-action settlement of former NFL players for long-term neurological problems associated with repeated concussions. All eligible retired former NFL players will receive a baseline neuropsychological and neurological examination, and additional medical testing, counseling, or treatment if they are diagnosed with moderate cognitive impairment. The settlement also provides for monetary awards, conceivably into the millions of dollars, for diagnoses of certain neurocognitive diseases or impairments, such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or certain levels of dementia. Fewer than 200 retired NFL players have opted out of the settlement.
Other sports organizations have filed class actions, as well. A number of former college athletes have filed suit against the NCAA, alleging long-term injuries from concussions experienced while playing NCAA sports. The U.S. Soccer Federation, U.S. Water Polo, the NHL, and the World Wrestling Federation have also been the subjects of concussion-related lawsuits. Many states, including Colorado, have passed measures intended to protect young athletes from second-impact syndrome, a rare and potentially fatal consequence of repeated concussions.
Reid Neureiter of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell has researched concussion litigation extensively. On Thursday, March 9, from noon to 1 p.m., he will present “Concussions in the Courts,” a one-hour lunch program to highlight the continuing litigation between athletes and athletic organizations. Register by calling (303) 860-0608 or by clicking the links below.