Junior Seau (Getty Images)
The family of Junior Seau, the likely future Pro Football Hall of Famer who committed suicide last May by shooting himself in the chest, filed a wrongful death suit Wednesday against the National Football League. The suit alleges the league failed to protect Seau from the dangers of hits to the head and their long-term effects.
This month, the National Institutes of Health reported that examination of Seau's brain showed he had CTE, a brain disease linked to blows to the head, which can result in depression and dementia.
Seau, who committed suicide at age 43 in Oceanside, Calif., played 20 seasons in the NFL from 1990 to 2009 as a linebacker with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.
The suit, filed in California Super Court in San Diego, also names helmet maker Riddell Inc. as a defendant. The suit alleges negligence in the design and testing of the helmets and that they were unsafe.
The suit was filed by Seau's four children, Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, through their guardian, Seau's former wife, Gina.
"We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE," the family said in a statement. "While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.
"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."
The introduction to the suit describes the NFL as the "most successful sports organization: generating multi-billion dollar profits.
"This success comes at a price for the players who make the game great. ... The NFL was aware of the evidence and risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries for many decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from players, including Junior Seau.
The suit also alleges, "Although the NFL voluntarily assumed its role as the unilateral guardian of players safety, the NFL has exacerbated the health risk to players by promoting the game's violence and lauding players for returning to play despite being rendered unconscious and/or disoriented due to their exposure to sub-concussion and concussive forces."
Seau never was officially listed as having a concussion during his NFL career, but the suit said he played through injuries and pain year after year.
"He suffered innumerable blows directly to his head during his NFL career, both sub-concussive and concussive. Several times he was hit in the head so hard that he sustained facial lacerations," the suit said.
"Seau also suffered from and reported symptoms of head injuries from playing in NFL games, including dizziness during and after playing, dizziness when he turned his head, and becoming dazed after being hit during games."
The suit said that numerous times, "He would sit on the sidelines until he regained his bearings and he would then return to the games."
It said that by returning to play while he was still symptomatic he was exposing his brain to greater trauma. The suit cited the finding of CTE in Seau's brain.
"Junior Seau reasonably relied on the NFL's fraudulent concealment and affirmative misrepresentation regarding the danger ... which proximately caused his injuries, including CTE," said the suit.
A similar suit against the NFL and Riddell was filed last February in Cook County, Ill., by the estate of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who died in 2011 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Prior to his death at age 50, Duerson had asked that his brain be studied after his death because he believed "there's something going on" in his brain, according to the suit. Duerson's brain was subsequently examined by researchers in Boston, who said they found CTE, a brain disease linked to concussions.
Though Duerson's suit was initially filed individually in a county court, it has since been consolidated into a master complaint in federal court in Philadelphia of about 190 suits by about 4,000 former NFL players. The suits allege that for decades the NFL knowingly failed to protect players from concussions and warn them of their potential long-term effects, including depression and dementia.