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Joe Theismann’s career ended in front of a national audience when his leg snapped during a Monday Night Football game back in the 1980s. Michael Irvin was carted off the football field with a neck injury and never played again. Troy Aikman’s 10th football concussion finally sidelined him for good.

All three players had illustrious and famous runs in the NFL. They won Super Bowls and went on to successful broadcasting careers. Yet they could have played longer if not for their career-ending injuries. Aikman was just 34 years old when he suffered his disabling injury and was due for a $70 million, seven-year contract extension before his string of concussions. Instead, his concussions caused him to lose value, as he became more of a liability than an asset. He was placed on waivers and reluctantly announced his retirement from professional football.

Football is one of the most dangerous sports in the United States. The lasting neurological effects of football-related injuries have led to the early retirement and even death of some of the sport’s greats. Even players who never made it to the NFL are today suffering from neurological degeneration due to repeated head trauma.

Stellar Experience With NFL Disability Insurance Claims

From violent collisions on game day to off-the-field illnesses and injuries, professional football players never know when their careers might end. NFL players who make the opening day roster on average last less than five years in the league, but there is no guarantee. Compare this small number to the careers of talented professional baseball, basketball, or tennis players. Nolan Ryan played baseball for 27 years. Michael Jordan played basketball for 16 years, and Roger Federer, a tennis legend, is still winning major titles 15 years after his first.

The inherent dangers of the NFL mean shorter careers, high disability insurance premiums, and frequent wrongful denials of benefits. While disabled players who played at least three seasons in the league are fully vested in the NFL’s retirement plan, the maximum pension benefit pales against even the league minimum for a rookie salary. For solid veterans and bona fide stars, premature retirement means forfeiting millions of dollars.

The legal team at DarrasLaw nationally advocates and litigates for college and professional football players who have private insurance coverage against long-term disabilities to ensure they receive fair compensation for a lost projected salary, signing bonuses, loss of value, and LBTE (likely to be earned) incentives and permanent career ending coverage.

America’s top-rated athletic disability attorneys at DarrasLaw help NFL players, college athletes, free agents, and early round draft picks negotiate proper terms before they buy and later help enforce disability insurance coverage to capture those projected earnings in the event that injuries or illnesses cut their pro careers unnaturally short. Founding attorney Frank N. Darras has three decades of national litigation success and unmatched claim experience in the field of long-term disability law. Frank N. Darras has successfully helped the NFL, colleges and universities, agents, players and teams whose insurance companies wrongfully delayed, denied, terminated, or otherwise disputed valid benefit claims.

Call the nation’s award-winning NFL lawyers and athletic disability attorneys from DarrasLaw today at 800-898-7299 or contact us online to schedule your confidential, free NFL disability policy analysis and free claim consultation. Frank N. Darras and his firms have recovered almost $1 billion in insurance benefits, so no case is too large or complex for our renowned NFL disability lawyers at DarrasLaw.

Understanding NFL Disability Insurance

NFL long-term disability and loss of value insurance is high-risk and high-value. Only certain underwriters provide private NFL disability insurance policies, and they are looking to make a profit. Having an experienced long-term disability insurance attorney from DarrasLaw on your side during the policy negotiation process is your first line of defense in avoiding a bad-faith delay, denial, or termination of football disability benefits. We know the fine print-based tricks that high-value long-term disability insurers try to pull, and our experienced NFL disability lawyers can help protect you from a wrongful denial of benefits when you need them most.

Most NFL franchises provide basic group disability benefits that may entitle you to a percentage of your salary for a short-term injury, to claim pension benefits, or to claim total-permanent disability benefits from the NFL. As stated previously, however, not every player has vested pension benefits—and what about lost sponsorships, performance bonuses, and overall career value? You can recover each of these losses with the right private long-term disability policy.

For example, the average value of an NFL contract is $2 million to $3 million a year, and that’s excluding performance bonuses, fringe benefits, and millions in lifetime sponsorships and endorsements. Contract values are much greater for starting players, with the Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford signing a record-breaking five-year, $135 million contract last year. This means he takes home a base salary of $27 million per year, not to mention additional benefits. He’s guaranteed at least $60 million from the contract, but if he suffers a disabling injury or illness, he may lose about $75 million.

Group Disability Benefits Provided by the NFL

The following group disability benefits are available directly from the NFL (excluding contract guarantees) if you suffered a disabling injury or illness:

  • Total permanent disability (TPD) insurance: Disabling injuries or illnesses that leave you unable to engage in your occupation may qualify you for TPD insurance. Spinal fractures, paralysis, CTE (discussed below), and certain head traumas commonly result in the need for TPD benefits. These benefits are available to both active and inactive players. You’ll receive guaranteed certain minimum payouts, but they’re not much compared to your NFL salary. You’re entitled to these benefits until you recover or reach retirement age. You may also need to apply for federal Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), however, before claiming NFL benefits. Your federal benefits may offset or reduce, dollar for dollar, any NFL payouts.
  • Line-of-duty disability insurance: These benefits are similar to workers’ compensation benefits. They provide players injured on the field or in practice with as many as 7.5 years of group disability benefits. These benefits only make up a small percentage of your income. Your injury must result in a substantial disability, which is a high standard. Your treating doctors must expect your substantial disability to last more than a year. A bruised shoulder, minor concussion, or broken finger may not qualify you for line-of-duty benefits.
  • Neurocognitive disability insurance: These benefits provide as much as $4,500 per month for 15 years or until retirement age (55), whichever occurs first. They may supplement line-of-duty or related benefits if you suffered multiple concussions leading to CTE or dementia.
  • 88 plan: This specialized reimbursement plan provides about $200,000 in benefits per year for hospital and at home care if you receive a diagnosis of ALS, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia.
  • Long-term care plan: Eligible players older than 50 may qualify for these group benefits in an amount not exceeding $219,000.

Eligible players suffering from a permanent or terminal injury or illness may also qualify for federal SSDI benefits. You must suffer a total disability from any occupation to qualify for SSDI benefits. SSDI benefits generally run concurrent to NFL provided benefits and private disability insurance. One group benefit provider may subtract any benefits you’re entitled to from those paid by another.

Understanding Private Long-Term Disability Benefits

Many players risk relying only on group NFL or federal long-term Social Security disability benefits. Early round draft picks, high-value free agents, players without sufficient minimum payment guarantees, and players with substantial off-field earnings should consider an individual long-term disability policy. You can structure an individual long-term disability policy to meet your specific financial needs.

Individual long-term disability insurers will conduct a risk-benefit analysis in setting your insurance premiums and policy value. Individual disability insurers will look to your position—quarterback versus running back—as well as your past concussion and injury history, age, and overall health in setting your premiums and offering coverage.

Most private individual disability insurance plans are “true own-occupation coverage” policies. Unlike Social Security or group coverage, true own-occupation coverage doesn’t ask if you’re disabled from all occupations. It asks whether you’re disabled from your position in the NFL.

For example, a quarterback who suffers a career-ending broken femur can still claim individual true-own occupation benefits and broadcast, coach, or act as a venture capitalist. He likely wouldn’t qualify for group or SSDI benefits by virtue of his inability to play football, because he can still work in some capacity. Loss of Value or drop-in-slot protection policies typically offers lump-sum payments on a pre-agreed contract value if you suffer from a disabling injury or illness that affects your draft or free agency drop in value. Sometimes, these policies are based on a percentage of your lost income.

As discussed earlier, Loss of Value (LOV) insurance is also highly recommended for many early round draft picks, free agents, and certain high-value players. LOV insurance covers when your injury or illness does not end your career, but greatly decreases your overall value in the draft or free agency as a player. Players who suffered from multiple concussions, recurring use injuries like knee tendonitis, and injuries right before the draft may benefit from LOV insurance. Daunte Culpepper, for example, a former quarterback for the Vikings, suffered a severe injury during a game that damaged three of his four major knee ligaments. The injury didn’t end his career, but the Vikings released him and he never regained his form and potential. Loss of Value (LOV) insurance can benefit such professional players.

Loss of Value insurance policies typically pays the difference between half of your actual contract after injury or sickness and your pre-injury anticipated contract value. For example, let’s say you’re a probable first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame with an anticipated $2,000,000 rookie contract value. A few months before the draft, you injure your arm during practice, preventing you from performing for the scouts at the combine. This injury concerns your prospective drafting teams, so you’re drafted in the seventh round instead of in the first. Your actual seventh round contract is for $500,000, which means a $1.5 million loss in rookie contract value.

Your LOV policy would then pay you the difference between half of your anticipated rookie contract value of $2,000,000, and your actual contract value of $500,000. This means you’d receive a $500,000 payout.

LOV insurance doesn’t benefit all players, but it may result in substantial payouts after a career-altering but not career-ending injury.

Common Disabling Injuries in the NFL

A lot of media attention focuses on the life-threatening degenerative brain condition found in all but one former player recently tested for the disorder. This is called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a degenerative brain illness triggered by repetitive traumatic head injuries, such as concussions, and even asymptotic brain injuries. These repetitive injuries cause certain proteins to build up in the brain that spread and kill brain cells with time.

NFL all-pros such as Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Troy Aikman could have played far longer if not for their traumatic brain injuries.

Symptoms of CTE include, but are not limited to:

  • Impulsivity
  • Severe personality changes
  • Emotional instability
  • Memory loss
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Speech impediments
  • Inability to think and focus
  • Early onset dementia
  • Aggression
  • Vision problems

Rob Kelly, a former NFL safety, retired due to injuries at the age of 28. In the following years, Mr. Kelly’s wife reported violent changes in his mood and behavior to the point where he wouldn’t even communicate. He lost weight, wouldn’t drive, couldn’t sleep, and suffered from severe neuropsychological dysfunction. It was eventually diagnosed as CTE, which is linked to his career as an NFL safety.

Any traumatic brain injury, including a single severe concussion that triggers the protocol, can put your career and overall health in danger.

Aside from traumatic brain injuries and CTE, professional football players may also suffer from:

  • Paralysis: Paralysis is the loss of the ability to move and/or feel certain parts of your body. If a traumatic injury like a tackle causes it—such as the hit by Jack Tatum on Darryl Stingley—it’s typically irreversible and career ending. Your paralysis begins directly below the area where your nerves/spine suffered the injury. A serious injury in your lower back, therefore, may result in paralysis of your legs, and an injury to your neck may result in quadriplegia.
  • Herniated discs: Bulging or herniated discs often occur after a fall or serious tackle. These discs pad the vertebra in your spine, allowing you to move and preventing your bones from grinding together. Herniated discs cause a lot of pain and often require surgery to correct. Serious herniations can also result in nerve root compression, which can cause spinal stenosis. Damage to the spine from playing football may have caused Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon to suffer from dementia.
  • Osteoarthritis: Football players may suffer from osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, earlier than most. Osteoarthritis is the inflammation of the spinal joints after the protective cartilage wears down with time, or where joint damage and unnatural friction is common, such as in athletes. Traumatic damage to your spinal joints can trigger the condition, and you need to distinguish between traumatic and age-related arthritis when claiming long-term disability benefits.
  • Fractures: Severe fractures of larger bones, such as your femur, may require multiple surgeries and end your professional career. Some athletes, like Joe Theismann, suffered career-ending fractures in front of the whole world, on television.
  • Knee injuries: Many long-term disability claimants need knee replacements as a result of wear and tear, but football players commonly need tendon surgery. Such surgeries may end or alter NFL careers.

Any injury or illness, from a broken thumb to cancer, may qualify you for long-term disability benefits if it prevents you from playing football. The experienced long-term disability lawyers and top-rated NFL attorneys at DarrasLaw know the ins and outs of athletic disability insurance and are always available to conduct a free, confidential NFL disability policy analysis and free claim consultation.

Protecting the Future You Have Worked so Hard to Achieve

Our clients at DarrasLaw can include NFL players, college players who were drafted or expected to go as early round draft picks, and NFL teams protecting their investments in blue chip players and recruits. We know that consistent professional contributors can expect to play for a long time. The average career for a first-round pick is nine years, and for players with at least one Pro Bowl, the average is 12 years.

DarrasLaw is the top-rated disability litigation firm in the United States for athletic disability insurance and regularly represents professional athletes in many sports. We have extensive, national litigation and claim experience with high-end individual disability insurance policies, including temporary total disability, permanent total disability, contract completion, and drop in slot, draft, or free-agent protection. Our stellar disability trial lawyers have a reputation for toughness, which has earned us the respect of insurance companies and defense counsel in negotiating fair and timely good faith settlements.

Call our nationally recognized NFL disability attorneys at 800-898-7299 or send us a confidential email. We offer completely confidential, free consultations, case reviews, and policy examinations.

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It’s our honor to help and represent disabled people who have literally fallen to the bottom of their lives. We encourage you to read and hear what they say about us.

DarrasLaw is Americas' most honored and decorated disability litigation firm in the country. Mr. Darras has seen more, evaluated more, litigated more, and resolved more individual and group long term disability and long-term care cases than any other lawyer in the United States.

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