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Hall of Famer Mike Webster's estate, others sue NFL over concussions

The estate of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Webster has sued the NFL over concussions the Pittsburgh Steelers center sustained during his career.

Webster's is one of six estates of deceased former players among the 66 plaintiffs in the lawsuit that was  filed in L.A. Superior Court last month and moved to U.S. District Court for the Central District of California this week.

The plaintiffs include the estates of former Steelers offensive linemen Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk. The two players and Webster were all diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the devastating neurodegenerative disease, following deaths under troubled circumstances.

“Michael Webster was diagnosed by autopsy with CTE caused from his repeated concussions,” the 83-page complaint obtained by the Los Angeles Times said, “and Plaintiffs were unaware of the source due to active fraud by the Defendants to this very day.”

This is the largest such lawsuit against the NFL since a federal judge rejected the proposed $765 million settlement between the league and former players in January because of concerns about whether the amount is sufficient. Almost 5,000 former players or their estates have sued, including 40 Hall of Famers.

Webster’s journey from Pro Bowls to health difficulties and living in cars following his playing career formed a key part of last October’s PBS documentary “League of Denial.” After dying at age 50 in 2002, Webster became the first former NFL player found to have had CTE.

Strzelczyk died in 2004 after his pickup truck collided head-on into a tanker truck while he fled police. Less than a year later, Long died after drinking antifreeze.

Former Pro Bowlers Roger Craig and Michael Bates, both living, are also part of the lawsuit.

“I want to make sure their rights are protected,” said Tom Girardi, one of the case’s attorneys who represents more than 1,400 retired players. “You file that knowing that it’s going to go into the large pot. You want to make sure that they have their voice, that if there’s compensation coming they’re going to get it.”

The lawsuit, as with hundreds filed previously, accuses the NFL of not warning players about the long-term dangers posed by head injuries and not properly diagnosing or treating them, among other charges.

The NFL didn't immediately return a request for comment, but the league has repeatedly denied such claims.

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nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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