Former Chicago Bear Sues NFL for Damages from Concussions
On March 27, 2018, former Chicago Bear Craig Steltz filed a lawsuit against the NFL in Louisiana federal court. In the lawsuit, Steltz requested financial compensation for the chronic injuries, expenses, and intangible losses suffered as a result of the NFL’s “intentional tortious misconduct, including fraud, intentional misrepresentation, and negligence.” Steltz claimed that he suffers from the pathological and debilitating effects of mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) caused by the repeated concussive and sub-concussive impacts that he experienced while playing in the NFL. Steltz, a fourth round pick, played his entire NFL career, 2008 to 2014, with the Chicago bears, appearing in 77 games.
According to the complaint, the NFL ignored, minimized, disputed, and actively suppressed broader awareness of the link between sub-concussive and concussive injuries in football and the chronic neurocognitive damage, illnesses, and decline suffered by former players, including Steltz. Steltz alleged that there was medical literature dating back as far as 1928 demonstrating a scientifically observed link between repetitive blows to the head and neurocognitive problems. In 1994, the NFL formed a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee to study the impacts concussions on NFL players and claimed the Committee was independent. However, the Committee included five members that were affiliated with the NFL. For example, the complaint alleged that the Committee’s chair, Elliot Pellman, was the physician and trainer for the New York Jets who had no specialized concussion training. Further, the Committee’s findings from 2003 to 2009 said that concussions did not pose a health risk to players and it was safe for players to return to the field after they had suffered a concussion during a game. The Committee’s findings directly contradicted research conducted by experts in sports concussion.
However, it was not until March 14, 2016, when the NFL for the first time, publicly acknowledged the link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other devastating brain diseases. In 2016, a $1 billion concussion settlement was reached, which compensated more than 20,000 former NFL players over the course of the next 65 years. As part of the settlement, the NFL admitted no fault and an NFL official spoke to Congress acknowledging a definite link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, the settlement was only for players that retired from the NFL by July 2014. Steltz did not meet the deadline as he was released by the Bears on August 25, 2014 and he never played in the NFL again.
Steltz claimed that the NFL was negligent, failed to inform NFL players of the risks, and/or was willfully blind to the medically proven fact that repetitive MTBI would lead to neurocognitive injuries. Further, Steltz claimed that the NFL actively suppressed and kept secret information about MTBI it knew would change the economics of the game and the health of players. As such, the NFL caused or contributed to Steltz’s injuries and increased risks by historically ignoring the true risks of MTBI, failing to disclose the true risks of repetitive MTBI to NFL players, and since 1994, deliberately spread misinformation concerning the cause and effect relationship between MTBI in NFL football and latent neurodegenerative disorders and diseases.