Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that can appear after a history of repetitive brain trauma. The initial injury can date back as far as ten years before the onset of the full-blown disease. CTE is hard to diagnose. An autopsy is the basis for a definitive CTE diagnosis. However, symptoms and biomarkers can arise within 8 to 10 years after traumatic brain injuries occur. This delayed, inconclusive diagnostic timing can present challenges to victims of CTE seeking disability and Workers’ Compensation. Call the Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers at the Ramsay Law Firm

Signs and Symptoms for Diagnosing CTE

Some researchers suggest that there can be biomarkers present earlier than 8 to 10 years that will warrant an official diagnosis before death. While this is still under examination, there is confidence in developing blood tests that can establish early measurable markers for an earlier diagnosis. However, this offers no hope to the vast number of football players living with the daily burdens of CTE and coping with the despondency that can result from knowing there is no cure.

CTE typically occurs in athletes who play contact sports. Others diagnosed include individuals in the military, victims of chronic domestic violence, and people with a history of chronic/violent seizures. The contact sports associated with CTE consist of football, boxing, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. However, CTE cases have been reported more frequently in former football players than any other sport.

A commonly known risk linked to CTE is the incidence of repetitive head injuries. These injuries are not visible externally in that there is no bleeding. Blows to the head known as concussions are the most significant injuries that cause CTE. However, studies have shown that sub-concussive hits to the head that don’t cause physical symptoms can still be of great significance in contributing to the progression of this disease. There is no cure and no specific treatment for CTE.

The primary symptoms when the disease strikes in full are:

  • Dementia
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Depression
  • Dizzy spells,
  • Lack of balance (to the point that causes walking impediments)
  • Parkinsonism and tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Speech impediments
  • Proneness to explosive conduct including jealousy or paranoia

There are four stages or “precursors” with recognizable signs at each stage as CTE develops:

  1. First stage: confusion and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as headaches and disorientation
  2. Second stage: Memory loss, impulsive behavior, poor judgment, and social instability
  3. The third and fourth stages include a progression towards deteriorating and escalating symptoms of dementia, movement disorder, sensory disorder, tremors, vertigo, reduced facial expression or hypomimia, deafness, depression, and suicidal tendencies.

CTE Injured Players Seeking Workers’ Compensation Benefits

The time table of CTE development and diagnosis can present significant challenges for players seeking Workers’ Compensation benefits in North Carolina where there is a two-year limit to file the claim.

Professional players are often entitled to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits. However, CTE presents multiple questions of law and fact given that the injuries occur so far back in time and physicians are not in agreement as to the prognosis. While North Carolina provides an exception to occupational diseases, there is no clear indication CTE can meet this definition. Consult an experienced Charlotte Workers’ Compensation lawyer for help with your claim.

Recent Legal Cases on CTE Injuries

The decision of Solomon v.Bert BellPete Rozelle NFL Player Ret.Plan presents the question of disability in a player afflicted with CTE. The retirement plan board refused to accept that CTE-related symptoms constituted a temporary or permanent disability. The appellate court rejected the retirement plan’s argument that benefits were “inactive” on the basis that the player had not claimed CTE disability in his initial applications. The debate on doctors’ opinions in Solomon illustrates the problematic lack of consensus on CTE among doctors.

Also, the case of Mullen Collins v. Unum Life illustrates the challenges of the families unable to receive insurance benefits when a player commits suicide, considered an ailment of CTE. The decision in the case Mullen Collins v. Unum Life was issued in an unpublished opinion, indicating that it doesn’t establish a precedent to be cited in other cases and may not hurt your case.

History of the CTE Debate in North Carolina

Probably the greatest challenge of CTE diagnosis is resistance to recognize CTE among football professionals. For example, in July 2018, University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora publicly questioned the validity of CTE studies linking football to the disease. This statement came as a surprise because fellow University of North Carolina professor Kevin Guskiewicz is a leading researcher on the subject of CTE within the NFL.

Professor Robert Cantu is a neurosurgeon who, among other positions, teaches Exercise and Sports Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mr. Cantu has been at the forefront of research and advocacy, speaking out about the public crisis health posed by CTE since it came up. He testified about CTE in Congress on October 28, 2009, pointing out that the problem is much bigger than the NFL. He noted that he treated an 18-year-old high school athlete showing beginnings of CTE. In his view, CTE is a serious public health problem, and there is a massive underappreciation of what head trauma can lead to, with Professor Cantu observing in that testimony that “there is no doubt that these injuries do lead to an incurable neurodegenerative brain disease.”

North Carolina CTE Lawyers Handling Workers’ Compensation Claims

The North Carolina football and contact sports injury attorneys at the Ramsay Law Firm have over 20 years of experience helping injured workers and their families. Players battling CTE from injuries sustained in this and other fields and their loved ones don’t have to face the challenges of this cruel and disconcerting disease on their own. Whether we are filing a legal claim on behalf of an injured CTE player or are helping the surviving loved ones of a wrongful death victim, we are relentless advocates of the rights of injured players and CTE victims. For a free legal consultation about your rights, contact our North Carolina Workers’ Compensation lawyers, or call the Ramsay Law Firm at (704) 376-1616.

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