A former NFL player who suffered what the league deemed a career-ending concussion has sued Lloyd's of London for denying a $1 million insurance policy for professional athletes.
The lawsuit filed this week in North Carolina could become a test case for insurers dealing with the emerging fallout from sports concussions and head trauma claims.
The NFL declared former Carolina Panthers defensive back Haruki Nakamura fully and permanently disabled after the August 2013 concussion he received in a preseason game, and it awarded him monthly benefits.
Lloyd's medical expert nonetheless ruled, nearly 18 months after the claim was filed, that he could return to play. However, their doctor cautioned Nakamura to consider the "probable long-term effects of repetitive concussions" before making the decision, according to the suit, filed Monday in Mecklenburg County.
Lizzie Lowe, a U.S. spokeswoman for Lloyd's, said the insurance consortium doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Nakamura, 30, said he suffers from headaches, vision problems, fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts.
He hit the side of his head making a tackle in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he was diagnosed with a concussion at a hospital. Citing a concussion, the Panthers released him five days later, the lawsuit said. He was later diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome by a sports concussion expert at the University of Pittsburgh.
Nakamura had paid $17,000 a year for the Lloyd's policy in 2012 and 2013, according to his lawyers, John W. Schryber and Julie L. Hammerman, who specialize in insurance policies for athletes. The policies are recommended for athletes who might not have a guaranteed salary and who can be cut after an injury. The lawyers said they have never had an insurer reject a policy after a doctor or the NFL judged a client to have a career-ending injury. But this is the first concussion claim they have filed under coverage for bodily injuries.
"And now they're denying coverage altogether," Schryber said Wednesday. "The point of going out and buying private insurance is to have a hedge against all of these other things that are outside of your control."
Nakamura could potentially seek an award under the NFL's planned $1 billion court settlement of concussion claims, though it's unclear how he might fare. The settlement, which could roll out within the next year, is designed to cover more than 20,000 NFL retirees for the next 65 years. The league estimates that 6,000 former players, or nearly 3 in 10, could develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia that some link to concussions.
Nakamura, an Ohio native, played for the Baltimore Ravens from 2008 to 2011 before joining the Panthers. He lives with his wife and two children in Mooresville, North Carolina.