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Pennsylvania Judge weighs whether NFL head injuries are workplace safety issue

Our readers may have heard of the hubbub in the NFL over concussions, head injuries, and litigation. Right now, about 4,200 former NFL players have filed suits against the league, claiming that it ignored evidence linking head injuries to brain damage and other health problems-such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's-down the road

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody heard arguments on the issue of whether the cases should be handled in court or by means of arbitration. Brody, during arguments, was particularly interested in whether the players' collective bargaining agreement specifies that head injuries are a workplace safety issue that belonged in arbitration rather than court.

Brody's decision could be worth billions of dollars to either side. One issue that could complicate the litigation is what has been referred to as "gap year" players, who played from 1987 to 1993, when there was no collective bargaining agreement in place. The NFL, no doubt eager to avoid going to court, argues that those players were bound by previous contracts or contracts later in effect when they collected pensions.

One of the more well-known cases is that of Pro Bowler Junior Seau, who committed suicide last May. In a final note, he requested that his brain be studied for brain trauma. Seau had no prior reported history of concussions, and his autopsy showed no signs of brain damage.

Seau's family donated his brain tissue to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and it was later determined that his head showed definitive signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition linked to concussion-related brain damage with depression as a major symptom.

Earlier this year, Seau's family sued the NFL, and the case has since been consolidated with those of other former players.

Source: CBS8.com, "Ex-players call NFL brain-injury panel a 'sham,'" April 9, 2013

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