CTE From Playing Football At Any Level

Brain Injury

By Matthew A. Dolman – Florida Personal Injury Attorney

On March 14, 2016, an NFL executive acknowledged a link between repetitive head trauma and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative brain injury. Jeff Miller the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety based his assessment on the work of Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist who diagnosed CTE in the brains of 175 people including 90 of 94 NFL players.

In late February of this year Pop Warner football settled a lawsuit with Debra Pyka, the mother of a former Pop Warner football player, who alleged her son, Joseph Chernach, committed suicide due to CTE which was the result of four years of repetitive hits to the head. He was also a high school football player and wrestler. He was diagnosed posthumously with CTE after his death in 2012 at the age of 25. Pop Warner and the Lexington Insurance Company decided not to continue litigation and settled for an undisclosed amount. Pyka had sought $5 million in a suit filed in Wisconsin where Chernach resided.

Legal experts reacted with surprise at the settlement because proving that Chernach’s cognitive problems were the result of youth football, rather than high school sports or other activities, would be difficult.

In the NFL, a settlement with retired players, for an estimated $1 billion, is being appealed by the retirees as insufficient. Professional sports have a great deal more money than youth sports leagues but the fact that many of these youth leagues have good insurance policies makes them a potential target for lawsuits. The precedent setting Pop Warner case may also expand to the high school level where football head injuries are twice as likely as in youth or college football.  Some states however have immunity or caps on damages in youth sports related injury cases.

What is CTE?

CTE is a condition that has symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease but it has a clear environmental cause. These symptoms manifest years or even decades after repeated blows to the head have occurred.  It is also the only preventable form of dementia. Unfortunately at this time, diagnosis can only be determined posthumously.  

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of all professional football players began playing in Pop Warner. This statistic is most likely the same or greater regarding college and high school players. If a player shows signs of CTE later in life and cannot be diagnosed until after death, determining the time when the injuries occurred is difficult. It could be only in one league such as college or a cumulative effect over twenty years of play in four different leagues. One case where the cumulative effects of concussions caused CTE was that of Michael Keck a 24 year old, who had a 16 year history of playing football. He passed away from unrelated congenital heart failure. He had requested his brain be donated to Boston University for CTE diagnosis after experiencing symptoms such as personality changes including abuse and aggression. Tests showed that his CTE was the worst ever seen in a person of his age. His case is vital to CTE to research as he had been through a barrage of cognitive tests when still alive

CTE in sports has been brought to the spotlight and featured in the biographical sports drama Concussion, The movie was based on an exposé in GQ called Game Brain by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Will Smith stars in the movie about Nigerian forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu and his battle against efforts by the NFL to suppress information on CTE in suffered by former players. A surge in CTE lawsuits is expected coming from former football players and their families, whose loved ones suffered years after playing the sport.

The Four Stages of CTE

CTE is a slowly progressive disease in most case. It has been categorized into four stages In a recent study from the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the Sports Legacy Institute.

  • Stage I – Headaches along with attention and concentration issues were common.
  • Stage II – Depression, explosivity and short term memory problems occurred.
  • Stage III – Symptoms included cognitive difficulties and problems with planning, organization, multitasking and judgment.
  • Stage IV – Evidence of full blown dementia including severe memory and cognitive problems diminishing daily living ability.

If you played football at any level and suffer from any of the above symptoms, or if you have a loved one who does, medical attention should be sought immediately. Cognitive testing will determine the likelihood of CTE being present. Even if your sports career ended decades ago you should be tested. If CTE is likely, it is wise to contact a brain injury attorney to discuss your options.  Only an experienced brain injury attorney is qualified to review your case and plan the best legal path for you.

If you played in any contact sports and have symptoms of CTE, you should consider consulting with an experienced brain injury lawyer in your area.  You may be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries. 

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