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Car accident victims with TBI pay the price after NFL tries to influence concussion research

What too many brain injury lawyers already know, as recent story in the New York Times reveals, is how NFL attempted to pay off TBI researchers

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I’ve been litigating serious brain injury cases for over two decades. Next year, I will be the chair-elect of the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group. I educate other lawyers throughout the country on brain injury, and I’ve worked hard to spread awareness about this awful and misunderstood condition.

But a lot of money has been spent to keep brain injury deliberately misunderstood.

This includes a lot of so-called “research” used by defense experts in car accident lawsuits. There is a small group of so-called experts, mostly neuropsychologists, who perform nearly all of the insurance medical exams for insurance companies and defense lawyers today. These doctors all write papers, actively collaborate with each other and, insidiously, use the papers to support findings that a person does not have brain injury; or that a person is malingering, pursuing secondary gain, or has emotional issues (but never from the auto accident). I’ve heard they even have their own email listserve and a nickname for each other.

You can call this a lot of things. I’ll just call it evil, for simplicity’s sake. It’s pure evil to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies to do one-time exams of people who are seriously brain injured and desperately need medical care, or who only have one chance at having an injury settlement that will truly protect them for the rest of their lives. These defense doctors use half-baked junk science to deny them the care and compensation they need.

That’s what I see every day, fighting in the trenches as a brain injury lawyer. It’s also what I was reminded about recently when I read about what the NFL tried to do to “influence” TBI and concussion research. In 2012, the league offered donate tens of millions of dollars to concussion research overseen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which was viewed as a positive development after years of the league playing down the long-term effects of TBI and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on players. But the league worked to improperly influence the research, trying to steer the study toward a doctor it had ties to – instead of a doctor who pioneered research on the serious damages of CTE.

This is according to a study conducted by a congressional committee, as outlined by a story in The New York Times, “N.F.L. Tried to Influence Concussion research, Congressional Study Finds.”

This is simply horrifying on multiple levels. Mostly because people need to know that this isn’t limited to the NFL. It’s happening every single day to people injured in car accidents or at work who suffer brain injury.

I’ve also written about how disappointing the settlement was with the players, and the NFL’s egregious role in knowingly damaging its players by repeatedly sending them back onto the field with multiple concussions and traumatic brain injury.

There was the NFL’s continuous denial in its role of injuring its players, as demonstrated in its nearly $1 billion settlement to former NFL players with brain injury —  yet without taking responsibility for the injuries (so similar to what the insurance companies and defense lawyers do in my own TBI cases, where they deny any brain injury or relationship to the motor vehicle accident, often right up to the settlement).

I also discussed this in my recent post about the movie “Concussion,” the Will Smith movie about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who exposed the NFL’s knowledge and subsequent attempted cover up of  what Dr. Omalu discovered as CTE.

The latest government study concluded: “Our investigation has shown that while the N.F.L. had been publicly proclaiming its role as funder and accelerator of important research, it was privately attempting to influence that research… The N.F.L. attempted to use its ‘unrestricted gift’ as leverage to steer funding away from one of its critics.”

This is the most recent in a long history of instances in which the NFL has been found to mismanage concussion research, dating to the league’s first exploration of the crisis when it used deeply flawed data to produce a series of studies, The New York Times stated.

As a brain injury attorney, I’m acutely aware of the subject of misleading people about the dangers of TBI by underestimating its seriousness. Again, defense interests have worked hard to mislead people.

Defense interests, whether it be the NFL, the auto insurance companies, the workers compensation carriers, or the group of defense neuropsychologists who are all using each other’s half-baked papers to testify against TBI victims, have worked hard to deny justice to victims of TBI. All of this causes additional harms to thousands of accident victims who are denied fair compensation and needed medical care as a result.

Thankfully, as the New York Times reported, the NIH used the expert doctor on CTE and not the doctor the NFL urged. The NIH also declined the NFL’s subsequent lower offer of $2 million to fund the first year of the study, stating it would rather use its own money.

But the NFL’s attempted bullying with its deep pockets to skew the research in its favor is still really scary. It can be paralleled to insurance industry backdoor-funding many types of research including:

  • Whether surgery is needed for conditions.
  • Causation on repetitive trauma.
  • And psychological tests for car accident victims.

And it’s happening every single day. If you suffer a brain injury from a motor vehicle accident, and you are sent to a defense neuropsychologist by the insurance company, it very well may happen to you.

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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