North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Issues Raised by Lawsuit in California on Behalf of Ageing Football Players (Part I)

April 20, 2010, by Michael A. DeMayo

Most North Carolina workers’ compensation cases that this blog covers pertain to local events — debates about insurance coverage, fraud schemes, and occupational disease and injuries that relate specifically to North Carolina industries, such as tobacco (covered in a recent post), or tech (e.g. incidents out of the Research Triangle). But for this week and next week, we’re going to do a two-part investigation into a breaking story out California that may have serious implications for North Carolina workers’ compensation policy.

As reported in the New York Times last week, the National Football League and its insurers have been embroiled in a dispute over whether ageing football players should be entitled to California workers’ compensation for dementia. Already, due to California’s peculiar laws, several hundred former NFL players have filed for comp in CA. An NFL player who played even one game in California can file a claim for cumulative damage… even for injuries sustained years or even decades ago.

Point is, California has become a battleground for the NFL workers’ comp debate.

The newest wrinkle involves a dispute over the cause of dementia in NFL players. The New York Times story discussed the case of Dr. Eleanor Perfetto, the wife of Ralph Wenzel, an NFL lineman who played in the 1960s and ‘70s and who’s been hospitalized with severe dementia. Dr. Perfetto and her supporters contend that Wenzel and other NFL players in his generation (and afterwards) sustained cumulative damage playing football and that this damage caused (or at the very least exacerbated) the dementia.

If Dr. Perfetto’s claim on Mr. Wenzel’s behalf leads to a ruling in her favor–experts guess it would be about a $1 million settlement–it would open the door to dozens of similar claims. The Times’ story suggests that, all told, this could lead to over $100 million in claims. This money would not come from state coffers; it would come from the NFL and its insurers. Given that the NFL rakes in more $8.5 billion a year, this might seem like “a drop in the bucket,” but $100 million is $100 million, and experts expect a significant battle over this.

Dr. Perfetto claims that her husband’s care costs over $100,000 a year and that evidence significantly supports the theory that playing in the NFL increases the likelihood of getting dementia. For instance, in a recently conducted NFL commissioned study (published last September), players between the ages of 30 and 49 reported memory related problems at more than 19 times the normal rate for their age group. In addition, West Virginia University and Boston University researchers have discovered “traumatic encephalopathy” in the brains of diseased former NFL players — a telltale sign that cumulative football-related head trauma can in fact lead to dementia.

If you or a loved one has been suffering from an occupational disease or an injury sustained at work, it may behoove you to talk with a North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer ASAP to develop a strategy for how to collect money owed to you. Take proactive action today to ensure that you collect the benefits that you and your family need to move forward and level your budget.

More Web Resources:

In N.F.L. Fight, Women Lead the Way

Ex-NFL Players Pursue Workers’ Comp