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Football-Related Dementia and Workers' Compensation

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Van Nuys, CAA bell-weather worker's compenstation claim has been filed in California by the wife of a retired NFL footballer, alleging that the dementia he developed in his late 50s and necessitated his being placed in an assisted living facility at 64, is a direct result of his work as an NFL lineman from 1966 to 1973.

Ralph Wenzel played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and later the San Diego Chargers and during that time he "sustained more concussions than he could count," The New York Times reports. Medical science has linked concussions with heightened rates of depression, mental decline and Alzheimer's disease. In fact, The Times reports that researchers at "Boston University and West Virginia University have found chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a disease caused only by head trauma that typically results in progressive cognitive decline — in the brain tissue of many deceased players."

Mr. Wenzel's wife, Dr. Pefetto, has filed a claim in California, where the state's worker's compensationsystem works in favor of the retired atheletes. According to state records, approximately 700 former NFL players are pursuing cases in California, with most of them in line to receive routine lump-sum settlements of about $100,000 to $200,000.

While the bulk of these cases focus on knee and shoulder injuries sustained as a result of an NFL career, as well as other orthopedic conditions, Wenzel's case is likely to be precedent setting, in that it alleges the blame for dementia lies with work-related injuries, and thereby with the NFL itself.Dr. Perfetto's main reason for purusing the claim is to make guaranteed care for retired players who require it and do not qualify for the 88 Plan - "a program run jointly by the NFL and the players' union that reimburses medical costs of families of former players with dementia up to $88,000 a year "- available. Currently, families receive cost reimbursements, but the bigger issue is that some players may not be able to get long-term care insurance because they are at risk for considerable cognitive or neurological damage, and therefore the families have to pick up the expenses. This can be cripplingly expensive.

A lawyer representing Dr. Perfetto likens football head trauma to asbestos exposure, because both are a workplace danger and the resulting chronic illnesses can take up to 40 years to manifest.

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