NFL Retirement Plan Asks Fourth Circuit to Deny Benefits to Player Disabled by Symptoms of CTE

Issues from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) have started to seep into other parts of retired NFL players’ lives. Attorneys for the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan recently asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a Maryland District Court’s order granting retired NFL linebacker Jesse Solomon disability benefits. The District Court ruled in favor for Solomon after finding that the Social Security Administration determined that Solomon had been disabled within a fifteen year window. In order to receive disability coverage, a player must show evidence that a disability manifested itself within that time period.

Solomon played in the NFL for nine seasons after being drafted in the twelfth round of the 1986 NFL draft, playing with the Vikings, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Dolphins, where he finished his career. After retiring from football, Solomon taught physical education and even coached the varsity football team at Forest Hill High School in Florida. Solomon was let go in 2007, however, after multiple incidents where he “lost his cool.” In the District Court’s order granting summary judgment, the court gave weight to evidence from Solomon’s occupational therapist alleging Solomon experienced over 69,000 full-speed collisions in his career. In 2011, a Social Security Administrative Law Judge found Solomon was disabled in 2008—within the fifteen-year window—and that Solomon was unable to work due to his severe disability. In its argument to the Fourth Circuit, the Retirement Plan says that the determination of the Social Security Judge is not binding, nor dispositive.

This is not Solomon’s first attempt to use the court system to receive benefits from potential CTE side-effects. After the Third Circuit cleared the way for the landmark concussion litigation settlement last year—which Solomon was a part of—he was one of three players to appeal the order to the Supreme Court “principally on the ground that the settlement irrationally compensates CTE that results in death before the final approval date but cuts CTE out of the qualifying diagnoses eligible for compensation thereafter.” Solomon’s appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court, when it approved the settlement.

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