By DOUG SHERWIN, The Daily Transcript
A U.S. district judge has selected the San Diego personal injury law firm Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP to help try a massive, national case against the National Football League over head injuries.
The litigation, being brought by more than 1,700 former players, accuses league officials of misrepresenting or ignoring the correlation between multiple concussions and long-term brain injury.
The cases were consolidated by a federal judge in Philadelphia, and a plaintiffs’ steering committee was formed.
CaseyGerry partner Frederick Schenk will represent the firm on the steering committee, which is charged with overseeing pre-trial discovery; arguing pre-trial motions; deposing witnesses; introducing evidence and negotiating stipulations and settlements with the defendants.
Fellow partner Robert J. Francavilla will serve on the group’s medicine and science subcommittee, which will retain experts as well as conduct research of medical and scientific literature to help identify the relationship between playing football and developing head injuries.
“Our position is the NFL has long known of the correlation between repetitive head trauma and early onset Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression,” Francavilla said. “And I think it seems to be bearing out scientifically (from the medical results of) players who unfortunately lost their lives and had their brains looked at.”
The head injury debate recently returned to the forefront following the suicide of former Chargers star linebacker Junior Seau. However, Seau was never officially diagnosed with a concussion during his 20-year NFL career.
Francavilla claims NFL officials have had the information showing the long-term health consequences associated with multiple blows to the head, but haven’t properly disseminated that information to the league’s players.
“The NFL had a duty to warn players of the danger and provide the proper medical training and supervision,” he said, “but also to educate them about the immediate and long-term effects of concussions or repetitive head trauma.”
While players are aware of some of the risks involved with playing the game, they haven’t been given the full extent of those risks or how to spot the signs of a serious head injury.
“They’re not medical doctors,” Francavilla said. “They’re only as good as the medical staff taught to take care of them and the people making return-to-play decisions.”
CaseyGerry was selected to help with the case partly because of its experience with litigating head injury cases.
Francavilla and partner David Casey recently obtained a nearly $5 million settlement for Mission Hills High School football player Scotty Eveland, who suffered a severe brain injury and collapsed during a game four years ago.
The NFL, a multibillion industry, owns a unique responsibility, according to Francavilla, since officials at every level of football, from Pop Warner to the NCAA, take their cue from the NFL.
The litigation is focused on compelling the NFL to provide medical monitoring of cumulative head trauma for former players who are – or could in the future be – victims of the repetitive traumatic brain injury they sustained while playing in the league.
The plaintiffs also seek to recoup monetary damages in order to take care of their future medical expenses.
“It’s an industry we respect, but we have to make sure the industry respects its players,” Schenk said. “The goal is not to take down something that millions of people enjoy doing and watching; our goal is to make sure the players are properly compensated for what they’re experiencing.
“There are approximately 20,000 retired NFL players and many of them are facing health issues,” Schenk said. “The owners and players are going to have to come together to find a resolution, and that’s our goal.”