The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan and NFL Disability Plans are notoriously difficult for a NFL player to collect benefits under from the NFL. Further discouraging is that rarely are the cases filed by NFL players denied disability benefits under these Plans won in court. However, recently, a federal district court found that the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan and the NFL Player Supplemental Disability Plan were wrong to deny disability benefits to retired player Jesse Solomon and ordered the NFL Plans to pay him the full disability benefits at issue.
Following his graduation from Florida State University with his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Jesse Solomon played linebacker in the National Football League (NFL). He began his career with the Minnesota Vikings where he played until 1989, and thereafter he played for the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Atlanta Falcons. In 1994, he signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent, but retired from professional football in 1995. Over the course of Jesse Solomon’s NFL career that spanned nine seasons, it was estimated that he sustained approximately 69,000 “full-speed contact hits,” and additionally sustained numerous knee injuries requiring multiple extensive knee operations to repair ligaments, tendons and scar tissue.
After Jesse Solomon’s NFL career ended, he obtained a Florida teaching and coaching certificate, and began working in 2001 as a high school football coach and physical education instructor. However, as time passed, his chronic headaches, joint problems, depression and anxiety became increasingly problematic. In 2005, a brain MRI showed multiple abnormalities that his treating doctor advised were “most likely a result of multiple high velocity impacts in helmet-to-helmet fashion and chronic concussion syndrome.” Jesse Solomon’s physician explained that he had suffered from a wide variety of injuries “that are likely to worsen with time and are seemingly the result of the violet conditions he experience during his career.” In 2007, Solomon was forced to resign from his high school teaching and coaching position because of changing behaviors, and specifically “losing his cool.” He thereafter remained unemployed.
In 2008, an Occupational Therapist opined that Jesse Solomon was totally and permanently disabled, advising that he was not able to physically perform even a sedentary level of work since he was unable to sit greater than 10 minutes at a time without changing positions, stand for greater than 2-3 minutes at one time or walk for greater than 10-15 minutes at one time. His poor concentration requiring frequent redirection secondary to pain, poor overall endurance and inability to sustain concentration over a full workday contributed to his total and permanent disability.
As the district court explained, the NFL Plan promises to provide disability benefits to retired players like Jesse Solomon who become totally and permanently disabled as a result of their football career and thus become unable to work. There are extensive administrative procedures and steps that are required to be followed by retired NFL players to pursue these benefits. In Jesse Solomon’s case, he began the process to apply for disability benefits under the NFL Plan in March 2009. But the NFL Plan denied Jesse Solomon’s application and he went through multiple levels of required administrative appeal in front of various Committees and the Board representing the NFL Plan. Finally, two and a half years later (in August 2011), the NFL Plan agreed that Solomon was totally and permanently disabled, but determined that he was not totally and permanently disabled within 15 years of his retirement and thus only paid him Inactive level benefits which was only a fraction of the money promised to Jesse Solomon Under the NFL Plan. Thus, Solomon filed a third appeal to the NFL Plan, but was again denied.
Notably, during this two and a half year span, Jesse Solomon was found totally disabled by a Social Security Administration Administrative Law Judge “because [his] impairment or combination of impairments [was] so severe that [he could not] perform any work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.” The Social Security Administration determined that his disability began within 15 years of his retirement, yet still, the NFL Plan refused to pay Solomon the full disability benefits due him under the NFL Plan.
In March 2016, seven years after Jesse Solomon had begun the process of seeking the disability benefits that he was entitled to under the NFL Plan, the federal district court ordered that the NFL Plan pay him the full amount of disability benefits due. The Court determined that the NFL Plan was not permitted to ignore the decision of the Social Security Administration which determined that Jesse Solomon was totally and permanently disabled as a result of his football career within 15 years of his retirement, nor was it permitted to ignore the clear terms of the NFL Plan.
Unfortunately, Jesse Solomon’s situation is not unique. Many NFL players forced to retire due to disabilities resulting from their football careers are denied benefits under the NFL Plan and face lengthy administrative a court battles.
The attorneys at DI Law Group are skilled in representing retired NFL players in front of the NFL Plan and the federal courts to obtain the disability benefits that were promised to them as a benefit of their football career in the unfortunate event they became disabled. If you are a retired NFL player faced with filing a disability claim under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan or other NFL Disability Plans or have been denied disability benefits by the NFL, contact one of our experienced attorneys today for a complimentary initial consultation.