Posted on April 8, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

Whether NFL Concussions Cause Alzheimer’s May Be Decided in California

A case in California is shaping up as a test of whether the National Football League is liable for the dementia that is striking retired players who sustained head injuries during their careers.

The details of the case are carefully spelled out in a lengthy Page One story in The New York Times by sports writer Alan Schwartz, whose aggressive coverage of the NFL-concussion issue has been submitted for a Pulitzer Prize.

The detailed story centers of the case of Ralph Wenzel, who was a NFL lineman from 1966 to 1973. He was diagnosed with dementia when he was 67.

His wife, Dr. Eleanor Peretta, filed a workman’s compensation claim on her husband’s behalf in California. Apparently, retired pro athletes from across the country file claims in California for injuries they sustained decades ago.

That’s because under California law, any pro athlete who played even one game in the state “is eligible to receive lifetime medical care for their injuries from the teams and their insurance carriers,” according to The Times.

In fact, right now some 700 former NFL players have filed claims in California, and they can expect to get settlements of anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000.

Those lump sums have been for injuries such as injured shoulders and knees. But Wenzel’s case is significantly different, and could be precedent-setting. That’s because it is blaming Wenzel’s former employment as a football player for his devastating onset of dementia.

The case could be worth over $1 million for Wenzel and his wife, and could also result in the NFL being held liable for similar awards from retired players who have developed Alzheimer’s disease, on the hook for $100 million or even more, according to The Times.

The looming issue scared the Arena Football League, which just resumed operations, enough that it decided not to have a franchise in California.

Schwartz has a follow-up story on the NFL-workman’s compensation issue Tuesday.

In that piece, he describes how NFL teams now starting to contest the workman’s comp claims filed by former players in California. And some teams, to avoid the problem in the first place, are including clauses on their contracts that say players can only file for workman’s compensation in the state where their team plays.

For example, the Cincinnati Bengals now have a clause in player contracts that says they can only file for workman’s compensation in Ohio, according to The Times.


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447