The National Football League of Injury


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The NFL is America’s most watched sport. But the league does have a dark side. Each year concerns grow about the toll football is taking on players’ bodies. A former NFL player’s lawsuit may change the way future football players are covered under insurance policies.


The National Football League’s (NFL) problem of injury among their players is nothing new, athletes have bought disability insurance for decades to protect themselves against career-ending injuries. But a recent lawsuit could change how NFL players are covered from brain injury under their insurance policies.


Haruki Nakamura, a former safety who played for five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and the Carolina Panthers, filed a lawsuit against his insurer Lloyd’s of London. Nakamura said that the insurer has buried him under “unnecessary and redundant paperwork” in an attempt to deny his claim to a $1 million policy that they sold him.


The complaint filed also states that the doctor hired by the insurer refused to allow him to bring an advocate to his examination. The doctor claimed that Nakamura was fit to play in the NFL even though all previous examinations have said otherwise.


Nakamura is now suing them for $3 million to account for damages, legal fees and interest. John Schryber, Nakamura’s attorney said “For a disability insurer to deny coverage for a career-ending injury would be like the issuer of a homeowner’s policy denying coverage for damage caused by a fire.”


Awareness of head trauma in NFL players has risen in recent years, Nakamura’s case could affect how new insurance policies deal with head injuries in the NFL. Many policies for professional athletes were written years ago, when the seriousness and frequency of concussions was less understood.


With insurance claims for head related injuries in the NFL increasing in recent years, many are frightened this may encourage insurers to raise policy costs or even exclude concussions from coverage.


Documents filed in federal court has shown that the NFL expects nearly a third of all retired players to develop some form of long-term cognitive problem due to head injuries suffered in their career. The actuarial data also suggests that the risk for head injury was as much as 35 times greater than normal for some players.


Looking at this data it is understandable why some insurers are frightened to take on these risks. NFL players have tolerated the risk of injury for decades, but with concussions becoming more common and with the NFL getting better and better at diagnosing them properly, will insurers? Only time will tell, but this could be the beginning of major policy changes for professional athletes.


A Version of this article appeared on July 25,2016 on with the headline “NFL-related lawsuit on concussions could set precedent.”


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