The wife of a retired football player in California has filed a workers’ compensation claim after her husband’s death.

The claim alleges that her husband suffered from dementia and that by the age of 64 he needed to move to an assisted living facility. According to the claim, the dementia is a result of the football he played for the NFL from 1966 to 1973. Ralph Wenzel was a lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and also played for the San Diego Chargers. He sustained countless concussions and began to develop dementia during his late 50s.

Concussions have been scientifically linked with higher rates of depression, mental health decline, and Alzheimer’s. Recently, Boston University and West Virginia University researchers have found evidence in the brain tissue of deceased football players showing that they suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a disease that can only be caused by head trauma. The disease is accompanied by a progressive cognitive decline.

Dr. Perfetto, Ralph Wenzel’s wife, filed the complaint in California, where the workers’ compensation system favors retired athletes. Records show that currently in California there are around 700 retired NFL players who are pursuing settlements. Most of the cases deal with orthopedic injuries like knee and shoulder injuries. Generally, these cases tend to result in lump sum payments of $100,000 – 200,000.

Wenzel’s case stands out because it blames the NFL for Wenzel’s dementia. Lawyers for Dr. Perfetto says that head trauma resulting from professional football is similar to asbestos exposure. Both are precipitated by dangers in the workplace and unfortunately result in diseases that are chronic, can take many years (up to 40) to develop or present symptoms, and are irreversible. Head trauma and asbestos exposure can both be very difficult to treat because they cause irreparable physical damage.

Dr. Perfetto says she is pursuing the claim because she wants to see care for retired, injured players guaranteed, especially when the players do not qualify for the 88 plan. The 88 plan is a jointly run program by the NFL and the players’ union. It reimburses the families of former football players who are suffering from dementia for medical expenses of up to $88,000 a year. Treatment for dementia can be monumentally expensive, so much so that the cost can discourage or deter families from seeking the right care for their loved ones because they are unable to assume responsibility for these costs. And many players are unable to obtain insurance coverage in the long term because they are at risk for neurological and cognitive damage. Treatment is ongoing and extremely costly.

Dr. Perfetto says that her before her husband moved into an assisted living facility he needed to be watched and cared for around the clock, once he began losing his memory. He began having hallucinations and developed depression, and became unable to communicate clearly. He would fall and needed to be restrained because he would frequently try to get up on his own and sustain injuries. He lost 140 pounds and looked skeletal. He was put in hospice care after he came down with the flu and a few months later he died.

The NFL has been accused by thousands of retired players of hiding information about the risks and dangers of head trauma.

Any injured worker or family member of an injured or deceased worker should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in your state. When you are put at risk because of your job it is important that the employer be held responsible for any injuries that do occur. In Missouri, contact an experienced Missouri workers’ comp attorney who can answer any questions you may have about your rights and how to pursue a compensation claim for injuries you have suffered.


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