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Family of Pro Football Star Junior Seau Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit with NFL

By: Allan M. Siegel

Earlier this month, on October 5, 2018, the family of pro football star Junior Seau reached a settlement agreement in a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL. Seau, a Hall of Famer linebacker who spent the majority of his 20-year-career with the San Diego Chargers, shot himself in the chest in 2012. An autopsy later revealed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurological and progressive brain disease linked to repetitive head trauma and concussions.

As court records show, the wrongful death suit was filed in 2013 by Seau’s children and ex-wife, and the trustee of his estate, in San Diego Superior Court. The suit alleges the brain disease he acquired as a result of his two decades in professional football led to his eventual suicide.

The wrongful death settlement comes just weeks after the NFL reported it has paid out more than half a billion dollars in compensation to former NFL players and families who have struggled with concussion-related neurodegenerative conditions, including CTE, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. The $502 million the league paid to over 500 players as of August marked the halfway point for awards under its projected $1 billion concussion settlement.

A Different Path to Compensation

Over the years, we have shared the tragic stories of many brain injuries victims, including those who played professional football and other sports where head injuries among athletes are common, severe, and frequent, as well as the profound setbacks and losses experienced by their loved ones. This includes Junior Seau, whose suicide was predicated by his CTE, a condition known to cause depression and other symptoms that have led others to similar fates. One notable study identified CTE in 99% of former NFL players.

In 2014, we also discussed how Junior Seau’s family chose to opt out of the NFL lawsuit, and pursue a civil wrongful death suit they had filed before it was consolidated into the class action, which was finalized shortly after the league officially acknowledged links between head injuries and serious brain disease and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear challenges in the case. Under the terms of the settlement, over 20,000 former athletes and families receive compensation awards based on a system that takes into account a victim’s age and the type and severity of their condition. Compensation under the settlement is projected to exceed $1 billion over 65 years.

By eschewing the larger class action, the Seau family took a courageous step to take on the NFL on their own. As they claimed, the settlement did not fully take into account the pain and suffering experienced by families like theirs. Their goals focused on ensuring Seau’s children would be taken into account, and that the league provide the truth victims deserved. Based on Seau’s age at the time of his death (43), and his CTE diagnosis, the family could have received up to $4 million in compensation under the class action. Experts weighing in on the case say it is likely the confidential settlement, particularly because of Seau’s stature and a player and the tragic circumstances of his suicide, exceeded that figure.

Hard-Fought Battles for Justice

The Seau family’s hard-fought legal battle was invaluable in terms of shining a spotlight on professional football’s concussion problem, and the tremendous toll repetitive head trauma can have on victims and their families. This spotlight impacted the NFL’s handling of its larger concussion lawsuit, rallied support in the quest for truth, and helped prompt important rule changes designed to protect athletes in the league and other sports.

As personal injury lawyers who have a special focus on representing victims in brain injury cases, actively advocating for victims and families through leadership roles with groups like the Brain Injury Association of Washington, D.C., and even drafting legislation to protect young athletes, our team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. applauds the Seau family for taking a stand. Though such outcomes may not ever make amends for the loss of a loved one, they can make a difference when it comes to raising the awareness, support, and passion that drives the fight for justice, helps others in similar situations, and prevents such tragedies from happening in the future.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our firm is driven by those same principles, and is committed to helping clients across the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia as they seek justice through personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. If you have questions about a potential case involving a brain injury or any other preventable injury, contact us today.