Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Wrongful death lawsuits filed against pro football team

The image of sports as a game makes it hard to imagine professional football players as employees. The National Football League, like any other employer, is obligated to safeguard the health of its well-known workers.

Work-related head injuries have led to NFL liability lawsuits filed by about 5,000 retired pro-football players or families of players who died. The Washington Times reported more than 220 claims were filed by former Pittsburgh Steelers and over 330 by ex-Philadelphia Eagles players.

Now, the mother of Jovan Belcher claims the one-time linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs committed murder and suicide after suffering symptoms of concussion-induced brain injuries. Separate lawsuits - including an estate filing on behalf of Belcher's daughter - state the linebacker, who died in late 2012 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after killing his girlfriend, suffered mood swings associated with post-concussion syndrome.

Belcher's body was exhumed to detect chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury only diagnosable after death. The player's mother contends her son also suffered CTE like more than 50 other NFL players, some of whom also committed suicide.

The lawsuits blame the Chiefs organization for dismissing Belcher's injuries and neurological problems and for threatening the linebacker with termination unless he played while injured. The mother's claim cited two incidents in which Belcher was ordered to get back on the field soon after suffering concussions.

The Chiefs are charged with never warning Belcher about the serious conditions that might result from head injuries, a regular occurrence in full-contact sports. The former player's mother said the team never told her son CTE from head trauma could trigger depression and extreme mood imbalances.

The wrongful death lawsuits have requested undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages.

A Pennsylvania liability case can succeed, whether or not a defendant's behavior was intentionally negligent. A defendant who should have known an action was unsafe can be held financially accountable for a plaintiff's injuries and losses.

Courthouse News Service, "Family Blames Kansas City Chiefs for Linebacker's Murder-Suicide" Joe Harris, Jan. 06, 2014

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