Ex-NFL Player Sues for Benefits, Citing ‘Diagnosis of CTE’

Aug 16, 2019

A former NFL player has sued the league, seeking retroactive disability benefits associated with a raft of injuries he suffered during his career, including two concussions.
Williams is suing the NFL (Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Retirement Plan/NFL Player Supplemental Disability Plan) for disability benefits, after the league first denied his 1983 application for post-career benefits, but approved later request in 1995.
Delvin Williams, a running back, began his NFL career in 1974 and played for the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, and Green Bay Packers, before the Packers cut him in October of 1981. Part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the Packers’ doctor gave him medical clearance to continue playing. Williams did so, signing a contract with the Oakland Invaders of the fledgling USFL. But one day into training camp, Williams had to stop. The Invaders’ team doctor called the Dolphins’ team doctor, who allegedly told him that Williams should not be playing because of “a serious neck injury” he suffered while with the Dolphins. After an MRI, the Invaders’ doctor told Williams he could no longer play football.
Williams then made a request for benefits. The league denied his request, which it deemed to be a line-of-duty (LOD) claim. Williams’ appeal was denied. “Pursuant to the NFL Plan, the claim then went to arbitration,” according to the complaint. “The arbitrator declined to award LOD benefits, concluding that Mr. Williams’ injuries had not caused him to stop playing in the NFL since he had been released.”
In the early 1990s, a federal appellate court issued a decision that effectively expanded the benefits of the plan. Brumm v. Bert Bell NFL Retirement Plan, 995 F.2d 1433 (8th Cir. 1993).
This led Williams to submit another request in 1995, this one for Total & Permanent (T&P) benefits. Williams’ request was approved for “football degenerative” benefits.
The NFL also suggested that Williams could submit a request for retroactive benefits, which he did. The request, however, was denied “even though the NFL Plan’s doctor had determined that Mr. Williams had been disabled and unable to work in any reasonable capacity since 1984,” according to the complaint. The league’s decision rested on the fact that Williams had “earned income from various organizations from 1986 to 1995.” The plaintiff noted that the defendant did not investigate “as to the nature of the earnings.”
Williams ultimately filed a federal lawsuit. The district court ruled for Williams. However, the 9th Circuit overruled, finding that the league did not abuse its discretion in reaching its conclusions.
“In or around 2007, Mr. Williams began experiencing noticeable memory and cognitive problems,” according to the complaint. “His physician referred him for further testing and he was diagnosed with CTE most likely caused by the numerous hits he sustained during the NFL, including a severe concussion he suffered while playing for the Dolphins.”
When the plan was amended again in 2011, Williams was eligible again to make another claim. “Mr. Williams believed he might qualify for benefits under the new plan because of his CTE diagnosis and other documented neurocognitive problems,” according to the complaint.
However, the request was denied on March 22, 2018. Williams unsuccessfully appealed the ruling, leading to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit can be viewed here: https://beyondplaybook.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Williams-V.-The-Nfl-Player-Supplemental-Disability-Plan-Et-Al_Attachment1.pdf


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