Ex-Redskins and Panthers Player Sues NFL Pension Plan for Helmet-to-Helmet Injuries

In a case filed today in federal court in Baltimore by Zuckerman Spaeder LLP partner Cy Smith, Eric Shelton, a former running back for the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, sued the NFL’s pension plan for disability payments owed to him as a result of a helmet-to-helmet tackle during a 2008 Redskins preseason game. The career-ending hit caused permanent injury to Shelton’s spine. Ever since then, he has suffered from transient paralysis, memory loss, Parkinsonism, blurred vision, and impairments to his neck and hands, and is unable to work.

“The lawsuit is sad, but necessary,” said Smith, “This is a classic case of the NFL saying one thing but doing another.”

Despite the NFL’s recent admissions that concussions cause lifelong injuries, and that helmet-to-helmet collisions are the most dangerous hits of all, the league’s pension plan originally claimed in a letter—against the findings of three independent doctors—that Shelton’s disability “did not arise out of League football activities.” After Shelton hired Zuckerman Spaeder, the plan reversed course and finally admitted that his injury was football related, although it now claims that Shelton’s benefits should be reduced because his permanent injuries did not disable him until long after he was struck down and temporarily paralyzed in 2008.

The lawsuit asks the NFL pension plan to pay Shelton’s full disability benefits going forward, and to compensate him retroactively for the insufficient benefits he has received to date.

Smith, a partner in Zuckerman Spaeder’s Baltimore office, represented the estate of ex-Steeler great Mike Webster in the first case against the NFL pension plan in 2006, which paved the way for public and congressional scrutiny of the plan’s practices, as well as the recent focus on brain injuries and helmet-to-helmet collisions.

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Kalie Hardos
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