Eric Shelton is twenty-seven years old, and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He played one season in the NFL during 2006 with the Carolina Panthers. Mr. Shelton later sustained a neck injury during a helmet to helmet collision in the Washington Redskins training camp in 2008. He subsequently filed a claim under the NFL's disability plan for a permanent neck injury. He was awarded benefits for "degenerative" impairments that appear more than six or twelve months after an original injury, rather than the maximum benefit for injuries that cause immediate, permanent harm.
Mr. Shelton has now filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the NFL's disability plan improperly withheld benefits for his injury. This case is interesting given the recent publicity regarding helmet-to-helmet impacts in the NFL, and the efforts among both the league and the players' union to reduce the effects of such collisions. Workers' compensation cases filed by former NFL athletes, Mr. Shelton's case, and the recent acknowledgment of the neurological risks of helmet to helmet impacts, could result in increased compensation of NFL players who worked in the era when the league disputed those risks. Cy Smith, who represents Mr. Shelton remarked "Talk is cheap -- it's easy to put out posters and public-service announcements and levy fines for hits that occur on Sundays, but when a player is seriously injured on those hits, the league says something completely different." "The plan's position that this must be degenerative is in sharp contrast to how dangerous these hits are. The mechanism of injury here is what they've said 1,000 times is the most dangerous."