The mother of former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the team Tuesday after exhuming his body so that his brain could be examined for evidence of a degenerative condition linked to repeated concussions.
The lawsuit, filed by Cheryl Shepherd in Jackson County (Mo.) circuit court, alleges Belcher was subjected to "repetitive head trauma," and that the Chiefs failed to provide adequate medical care before Belcher killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide last December.
Shepherd is seeking a jury trial and judgment "in excess of $15,000 for actual damages, punitive damages, and/or aggravating circumstances, for the cost of this action, and for such relief as the court deems fair and reasonable."
Belcher’s body was exhumed at a cemetery in Bay Shore, N.Y., at his family’s request earlier this month so that his brain could be studied for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological condition. CTE has been linked to multiple concussions and includes symptoms such as memory problems, behavioral changes and eventually dementia.
CTE has made headlines in recent years with the deaths of some former professional athletes, including former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and former Bears safety Dave Duerson.
Shepherd’s lawsuit claims the Chiefs failed to warn her son of the short-term and long-term risks of concussions; failed to identify and remove Belcher from practice or games after sustaining head trauma; failed to educate Belcher about concussions; failed to monitor or treat Belcher for neurological dysfunction; and failed to provide appropriate counseling.
According to the lawsuit, Belcher was knocked unconscious during a game against Jacksonville in 2009 but did not receive adequate treatment before returning to team activities.
On Dec. 1, 2012, Belcher shot to death his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, while Shepherd was caring for his infant daughter in a nearby room. Belcher then sped from the residence to the Chiefs training facility, where he shot himself in the head in the parking lot.
A spokesman for the Chiefs told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that the team was aware of the lawsuit. He could not comment further because of the pending litigation.
The Chiefs are already the subject of a workers compensation lawsuit filed on behalf of several former players who claim the Chiefs hid the risks of permanent brain injuries from repeated concussions from 1987-93, when there was no NFL collective bargaining agreement in place.
In August, the NFL reached a tentative $765 million deal to settle lawsuits filed by more than 4,500 former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by football. The settlement, subject to approval by a federal judge, would apply to all past NFL players and spouses of those who are deceased.
However, several former Chiefs players found a 2005 amendment to the worker’s compensation statute in Missouri allowing employees to sue employers in civil court if the employees declined workers’ compensation. The window allowing such suits to be fired was due to expire in December.
The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of five former Chiefs players, but several others have added their names to the case, bringing to 22 the number of players involved.
The lawsuit claims the Chiefs ignored decades of scientific research indicating repeated head trauma causes permanent brain damage. It also claimed the Chiefs increased their risks by giving them "ammonia inhalants, caffeine cocktails and/or (anti-inflammatory drug) Toradol to abbreviate the need for concussed employees to miss working time due to a brain injury."
Players were even more prone to head injuries, the lawsuit said, because of the concrete-like AstroTurf surface that was in place until 1994 at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Certainly, Hall of Famers who contributed greatly to building the franchise add to the urgency for the team to find a just resolution, rather than try to ignore it or act like they had nothing to do with it," said Ken McClain, a lawyer whose firm is representing the plaintiffs.