The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

Junior Seau's Death Adds More Smoke to NFL Suit Fire

They say that correlation does not equal causation. However, at a certain point, when there's enough smoke, when do we begin to worry about putting out the fire?

This blog has been covering the NFL lawsuits extensively. It seems every few months, another tragedy strikes. A former player is diagnosed with ALS and told he only has a few years to live. Another former player commits suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

And now, Junior Seau has done the same.

It’s getting harder and harder to dismiss any tie between concussions and depression. Shortly after his second retirement from the NFL, Seau accidently drove his car off a cliff in 2010, in what appeared to be a suicide attempt. He claimed that he fell asleep at the wheel.

But police found skid marks near the cliff and ruled out a suicide attempt.

Dave Duerson, the former player that also died recently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, had a NFL lawsuit filed on his behalf earlier this year, reports the Chicago Tribune. He suffered multiple documented concussions in his career. However, with football players, it seems that unless they are visibly traumatized, unconscious, or unable to stand on their own two feet, they probably are going back in the game. The true number of Duerson’s concussions was probably much higher writes the Tribune. A posthumous examination of his brain indicted progressive, advanced brain damage.

A former teammate of Seau’s has estimated that Seau suffered 1,500 concussions in his career. Part of that estimate stems from the vague definition of concussion. The definition that he relied upon was “seeing stars after a hit”, which is obviously very subjective. He is quoted as saying, “As a middle linebacker in the NFL, if you don’t have five of these (Grade 1 concussions) each game, you were inactive the next game,” reports CBS Sports. In other words, players are required to hit hard, and when hit hard enough to satisfy their coaches, they see stars.

They say once you’ve had one concussion, it is far easier to get future concussions. More than one concussion in close proximity could result in a much more severe injury, via “second impact syndrome.” Concussions and the part of the brain responsible for causing depression were linked by a study by McGill University in Canada in 2008, reports the New York Daily News.

The link is becoming more and more clear, and the NFL has instituted rule changes in response to the problem. However, none of this matters for those filing lawsuits for their earlier playing careers. They are going to have to prove that the NFL knew about the link in the past and didn’t properly warn players.

As for those who have committed suicide, the biggest burden to their lawsuits, which will likely be based on negligence claims, will be proving causation. Though there are dozens of suicides amongst former players, and clear head trauma in most of their cases, there are also other possible intervening causes with each player.

Junior Seau had recently gone through a divorce and a domestic violence arrest. Duerson had recently gone through a divorce and severe financial trouble. Both players’ depression could be blamed on their life events, or their head trauma. Or their life events could have happened as a result of the head trauma. Causation, in these cases, really seems to be a chicken and the egg sort of dilemma.

So in the upcoming NFL lawsuits, while the players’ attorneys are going to point the finger at head trauma, the NFL attorneys are going to blame life in general. The burden of proof for the players’ attorneys is a preponderance of the evidence, which simply means more likely than not. With every additional suicide, depression case, or neurological disorder, it becomes more likely than not that head trauma is to blame.

Related Resources: