Professional athletes in America—in the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, and MLS—are always at risk for serious injuries. There are the injuries we’ve always known about, such as broken bones, torn muscles and ligaments, fatigue, and dehydration. The symptoms of those appear quickly and will usually heal in time.
But then there are the chronic injuries that manifest only after a long period of time. In particular, in the last decade or so, we’ve become aware of the long-term health consequences of repetitive head trauma and concussions, whether from a tackle, a cross-check, or a right hook.
Studies of former players in both the NFL and NHL have confirmed that many had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or “CTE” when they died. CTE is a degenerative disease of the brain whose symptoms mimic dementia, such as confusion, memory problems, cognitive deficits, aggression, and depression. Unfortunately, the only way to absolutely confirm a CTE diagnosis is through an autopsy.
Not surprisingly, whether due to broken bones are progressive symptoms of brain damage, many players are forced out of the game long before they intended. When they are no longer able to work because of their injuries, these players may apply for some form of disability insurance through their teams to provide financial assistance.
Disability plans through an employer—even a professional sports team—are governed by a federal law called the Employee, Retirement, and Income Security Act, or “ERISA.” As I’ve explained before ERISA makes it much, much easier for insurance companies to deny benefits, and much, much harder for employees to get them.
And insurance companies have extra incentive to deny disability benefits for professional athletes, whose claims may be worth a lot of money, and the injuries (like concussions, CTE, and other brain injuries) may be hard to prove or document. The insurance companies will hire specialists and do everything they can deny your benefits.
That is why is it important for players making a claim for benefits to seek legal assistance from ERISA attorneys who know how the law works. Anyone who tries to handle a claim denial on his or her own—even a well-known athlete—may ultimately cause more harm than good.