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Dwight Harrison’s Battle for Benefits Confirms Athletes Need to Protect Their Futures with Individual Disability Insurance Coverage

Dwight Harrison played in the NFL for 10 years from 1971 to 1980, for the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Colts and Denver Broncos. According to Yahoo Sports and GridIronGreats, the former 11-year veteran with the Broncos, Bills, Colts, Raiders was living in a FEMA trailer with no running water. Harrison suffers from head injuries and post-concussion-syndrome short-term memory, inability to concentrate and focus and severe depression. The GridIron Greats Assistance Fund (GGAF) has provided funds for utilities, food and basic needs to Harrison. (Yahoo Sports, Retired NFL Players and Dementia: Brain Trauma Hits Hard After Football Career, December 4, 2011)

In 2007, Harrison filed a law suit* against the NFL Player Benefits in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on July 5. According to the complaint, Harrison received $1,440 a month as part of his retirement package. On July 3, Harrison said he was notified by phone that he would no longer receive benefits. The former football player said the pension payments are his only source of income. (Southeast Texas Record, Dwight Harrison sues NFL over pension, July 18, 2007)

*Case No. 1:07-cv-00473-MAC-KFG

Michael Rosenberg’s firsthand account and viewpoint on SportsIllustrated.com says that “[I]n 1994, the trustees again acknowledged Harrison’s ‘total and permanent disability,’ at age 45 … but they would not give him more money. Instead, they informed him that his “disorder has its origin in an incident that occurred while you were playing college football, not League football.” They also said that his depression was ‘of recent origin.’ *

A case was filed by Harrison on February 1, 2013 against Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan in Texas Eastern District Court. Harrison was 44 when this fight began. He is 65 now. Harrison is fighting to recover the benefits the NFL allegedly cut off.

“The diagnosis of total and permanent disability is nearly a death sentence for so many people, athletes in particular. They have to learn to live their lives in an entirely different way and often suffer chronic side effects physically, financially and emotionally. Unfortunately, while gifted on the field, most of these people are ill-equipped for the fight of their lives, when benefits they were promised are wrongfully delayed or denied,” says Frank N. Darras, disability lawyer to the pros and expert on insurance law.

“While Harrison’s plight is a heartbreaker, it is not surprising. Disability protection for athletes is a subject that should be first and foremost in their minds and brought to their attention by their agents. This type of disability insurance denial happens all too often and in 2014 there are tools available to help players have better protection and prevent an unnecessary fight,” says Darras.

“I cannot stress enough that college players and pro athletes need to take steps now, to protect their futures, should an injury affect them for the rest of their lives,” says Darras.

Darras offers this advice for college and professional athletes:

  • Get a private individual disability insurance policy as there are less legal restrictions and disability hurdles.
  • Buying your own disability policy allows you to take your coverage with you between lock outs.
  • Make sure your policy includes an own-occupation clause and covers your specific, high-paying (or potential) occupation.
  • Budget now: the premiums on disability insurance policies for pro athletes typically cost $8,000 to $10,000 per $1 million insured. Although it’s not cheap, think of the costs you’d face if you were unable to play for the rest of your life.
  • If you are a college star, get specific loss-of-draft-slot insurance along with career-ending coverage. This policy pays out if you slip in the draft or suffer an injury that ends your career.

“As our focus transitions from the Super Bowl and college football to the Olympics, basketball and baseball season, there is no better time for players and athletes to get expert guidance. Whether they need help in reviewing their policies, or need help with the fine print of a new policy, a top agent or disability insurance lawyer who is familiar with star athletes and their insurance needs can offer priceless insight,” says Darras. “Getting the right help now will protect everyone down the road.”

*See: Case Number: 2013cv00074: Harrison v. Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan V.Defendant:Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan
Plaintiff: Dwight Harrison Filed: February 1, 2013 filed in Texas Eastern District Court, Beaumont Office, Jefferson County, Presiding Judge:Marcia A. Crone
Nature of Suit: Labor: E.R.I.S.A. Cause of Action: 29:1132 E.R.I.S.A.-Employee Benefits

*Gridiron Greats Assistance Foundation, GGAF, Player Stories, July 2013)
*Sports Illustrated, Dwight Harrison ‘Permanently disabled’, Harrison fighting for benefits NFL took away, January 29, 2014

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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