How the NFL Concussion Litigation Started
Concussions and repeated blows to the head have been problematic for National Football League (NFL) players for a long time. When players lead with their heads, concussions and head injuries are bound to happen. Mike Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, exhibited symptoms after receiving many head injuries including depression, dementia, and amnesia before dying of a heart attack at the age of 50. In 2002, Bennet Omalu was assigned to conduct an autopsy on Mike Webster’s body, examined his brain as well. When looking at the brain, Omalu saw a degeneration of brain tissue similar to people decades older than Mike Webster. Omalu then looked at 5 other NFL players’ brains and saw the same thing—heavy degeneration in brains that looked much older than the person’s actual age.
Jason Luckasevic, one of Goldberg, Persky & White’s attorneys, knew Bennet Omalu through his brother Todd, who did his medical residency working under Omalu at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office. Omalu spent time with the Luckasevic family, becoming friends with them. After Omalu found the degeneration in players’ brains, he published his findings on Mike Webster in 2005 in the journal Neurosurgery. He concluded that football players were developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (degenerative brain disease resulting from repeated head trauma) and this was causing irreversible damage to their brains.
After publishing his findings, the National Football League (NFL) attacked Omalu and demanded the article be rescinded, but the Journal kept it in. Luckasevic asked Omalu how he was going to defend his reputation, and he replied, “You’re a good lawyer. You’ll figure it out.” Soon after, Luckasevic started meeting with retired NFL players and saw the symptoms of repeated head impacts including headaches, memory loss, depression, and sleeplessness. He then built up a friendship with the players and in 2011, filed suit against the NFL on behalf of 75 players. Other law firms have teamed up with Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C. and more than 500 clients have been signed up. The initial filing charges that the NFL was involved in a “scheme by fraud and deceit” by failing to warn players of dangers of football and publishing research that falsely minimized the risks of the sport. The NFL eventually settled the class action lawsuit started by GPW and the injured players are currently being examined to verify that they meet the terms of the settlement by having diseases causes by CTE. Those diseases include Alzheimer’s Disease and ALS.
Michael Sokolove, “How One Lawyer’s Crusade Could Change Football Forever” The New York Times Magazine (November 6, 2014). [Link]