July 18 (Bloomberg) -- The National Football League Players Association conspired with the league to hide the risks of head injuries sustained on the gridiron, two ex-pros claimed in a lawsuit.
Former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Christian Ballard and Gregory Westbrooks, a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, accused the union of fraud, negligence and civil conspiracy in one of the first suits to target the players group.
More than 5,000 ex-players have made accusations against the league over head injuries in dozens of lawsuits consolidated in federal court in Philadelphia. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody granted preliminary approval July 7 of a settlement worth at least $675 million resolving claims that league officials failed to warn players about the links between concussions and brain injuries.
The players union said in a statement that it “has made the health and safety of its members a priority and the advancements in professional football on concussion education, prevention and treatment are a result of our efforts.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in St. Louis, seeks to represent all former players. The league isn’t named as a defendant in the complaint.
Since at least the 1990s, a retirement board with three union representatives has awarded millions of dollars in disability payments to retired players suffering from repetitive traumatic brain injury, or TBI, according to the complaint.
Through the retirement board’s work and other sources of information, the union knew about the risks of traumatic brain injuries.
“Despite their knowledge and acceptance of the link between concussive and sub-concussive hits and cognitive decline, defendants continued to actively and purposefully conceal and misrepresent the severe neurological risks of repetitive TBI,” the complaint says.
The case is Ballard v. NFL Football League, 14-cv-01267, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).
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