SAN DIEGO - The family of Junior Seau, the former Chargers linebacker who committed suicide in Oceanside last year, sued the NFL and athletic equipment-makers today, alleging the league hid the risks of repeated hits to the head.
Click here to read the complaint filed
Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 43 last May. His son said he suffered from wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression that got progressively worse over time.
Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the National Football League, told 10News in a written statement, "Our attorneys will review it (the lawsuit) and respond to the claims appropriately through the court."
An examination of Seau's brain by federal health officials determined that he suffered from a debilitating brain condition common to people who have suffered repetitive head injuries.
The examination by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke found the football star suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE has been found previously in autopsies of people who have suffered repetitive head injuries, including athletes who played contact sports, people who suffered multiple concussions and military veterans exposed to blast injuries.
The wrongful death suit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, contends that Seau took his own life because of brain injuries suffered over the course of his 20-year NFL career. The NFL hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head and deliberately ignored and concealed evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries, the lawsuit alleges.
"For many decades, evidence has link repetitive mild traumatic brain injury to long-term neurological problems," the complaint reads. "The NFL was aware of the evidence and risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries for many decades, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from the players, including the late Junior Seau."
Because the league establishes rules regarding player safety, it "has unilaterally shouldered for itself a duty to provide players with rules and information that protect players as much as possible from short-term and long-term health risks," the lawsuit alleges.
Players and their families looked to the league for guidance on safety issues, according to the complaint.
The listed plaintiffs are Gina Seau, Seau's ex-wife; their children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of his estate.
The family released a statement that said, "We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE. While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.
"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."
The lawsuit also alleges that helmets manufactured by Riddell Inc. and its Van Nuys-based parent company, Easton-Bell Sports, had design defects and that the company failed to warn customers of the risk of injuries.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Seaus are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Billy Ray Smith, a former teammate of Seau's with the Chargers and current sports radio talk show host, voiced concerns for many of his old colleagues and their families.
"It's not just me and the guy who played. It's the wives, it's the moms and dads, the daughters and sons that are really concerned," said Smith. "It takes a toll on my wife and my daughter."
Smith played 10 years in the NFL and said he often wonders about his own future.
"I haven't felt any of the symptoms. I'm checked on a regular basis up in Newport Beach. So far, I've been really lucky."