Monday, May 7, 2012

Head Injuries and Cruel Behavior

The National Football League is big business, big entertainment, big athletes, big everything.

Its workers' compensation issues are big too.

The American football watching public takes for granted the hazards frequented by professional football players since the dazzle of big screen LED and pageantry of spectacle that surrounds every game cloud the reality of the sports dangers.

But the occupational hazard of protracted physical contact is becoming more and more public, and with the recent suicide death of San Diego darling, Junior Seau, and news of coach suspensions in the New Orleans Saints "bounty program" case, more pressure is on the league than ever before to provide a "safe" workplace for the players.

Traumatic brain injury is little understood by the public, until someone close sustains it, then one realizes how much life changes.

I had a friend who committed suicide by jumping from a bridge following a very difficult number of years post traumatic brain injury.

My friend was a very successful businessman, and a very gifted athlete. He lived life big - everything he did was outsized and he took as much from life as he could.

Then he fell on his head on a motocross track and sustained a very serious concussion.

After he recuperated his wife noticed he wasn't the same. His friends also noted the he behaved differently. He was moody, thought processes became cloudy, decision making was ineffective, questionable and prolonged.

The depression brought about by traumatic brain injury eventually took over his life and he decided to end it.

I can't help but think that this was went through Junior Seau's mind. Head injuries accumulate, and alter thought processes.

Junior knew his mind wasn't right - that must be why he shot himself in the chest. If he shot himself in the head then science would not be able to study his brain.

Seau's death followed the suicide of former Falcons safety Ray Easterling on April 19 of what police called a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was one of the plaintiffs in a class action concussion lawsuit brought by a large group of former NFL players.

Just one year ago Boston University researchers issued a report on the autopsy of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson. Duerson months earlier had shot himself in the chest – like Seau – and wrote a note to his family, asking that his brain be sent to doctors for study.

The report came back that Duerson had brain damage common to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, head trauma also found in more than 20 other deceased players.

In the meantime teams combat workers' compensation claims by players seeking to minimize the financial damage of claims being filed in "liberal" states, such as California, which recognize injuries through continuous trauma (CT), rather than just single injury incidents.

Many in business denigrate California's liberal recognition of CT claims because, like many legal issues, the scope and context of a CT injury gets blown out of proportion and abused by people who should not be entitled to benefits.

But there is legitimacy to the CT theory - at least in the game of football and for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The NFL has been making a lot of news lately by fining and suspending players, coaches and support staff for illegal hits and other damaging play activity. This is offensive to many fans, who complain that football is by its nature a violent sport, that players are paid a lot of money to engage in the sport and that they should stop crying.

The collective bargaining agreements that the players sign contain jurisdictional clauses for workers' compensation purposes to limit forum shopping so that players can not avail themselves of California law or other liberal work comp state laws.

WorkCompCentral legal editor, Sherri Okamoto, this morning writes about this jurisdictional wrangling and points to the fight between Maryland and Virginia as the Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Pro-Football Inc. et al. v. McCants, No. 116, on Thursday. The case involves a claim by former Washington Redskins wide receiver Darnerien McCants against the franchise, which is incorporated in Virginia as Pro-Football Inc.

It is the second case brought by a former Washington Redskins player against the team in Maryland. Last February, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that the Maryland workers' compensation system had jurisdiction over a claim filed by punter Thomas Tupa Jr. for an injury sustained at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

In February the California Workers' Compensation Appeals Board ruled that Labor Code Section 3600.5(b) foreclosed its ability to take jurisdiction over Vaughn Booker's claim for cumulative injuries allegedly caused, at least in part, by his one professional football game in California.

Booker had signed a contract with the Bengals covering five football seasons. An addendum to this contract provided that Booker "promise(d) and agree(d) that any workers' compensation claim, dispute or cause of action arising out of (Booker)'s employment with the (Bengals) shall be subject to the workers' compensation laws of Ohio exclusively."

After signing the contract, Booker played three seasons with the Bengals. Of the 48 games he played with the team during this time, only one was in California. Booker later filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits in California, claiming to have suffered cumulative injury to various body parts that resulted, at least in part, from the game he played in California.

The Cincinnati Bengals also used Labor Code 3600.5(b) to obtain two panel decisions in 2010 rescinding administrative decisions favoring former wide receivers Eddie Brown and Wesley Carroll.

Legal arguments aside, former Saints and Browns offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley dramatically brought the issue home on Twitter shortly after Seau’s body was found:

“Any other smart ass player want to question why the league is cracking down? One of the baddest dudes may have just killed himself …

“And saved his brain so it can be studied to save future generations from suffering same fate. Yeah, y’all real tough. Life after football is REAL … grown ass men struggle emotionally … young boys don’t see the end … it’s coming. Life lesson today."

These football cases are no different than the one I pointed out several posts ago about the Herman Blair case and the shameful shenanigans Erie Indemnity Co. engaged in to deny this man his benefits because his traumatic brain injury prevented him from remembering the circumstances of his fall from a ladder.

Depression, suicide, bizarre behavior, episodic amnesia - head injuries, specific OR cumulative, produce serious cognitive and emotional issues that can't be taken lightly and unfortunately suicide seems to be a common way out for those who suffer the trauma. Employers and carriers selfishly seeking to limit their monetary obligations when verifiable head injury claims are presented show how cruel mankind can be.

1 comment:

  1. The human head is a delicate and complex part of the body and is of extreme importance to the way we function and live. All our bodily systems and actions are controlled by various parts of the brain.
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