A former NFL player who suffered what the league deemed a career-ending concussion has sued insurer 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, awarding him monthly benefits.
Lloyd's medical expert ruled in 2015 that Nakamura could return to play. Its doctor thought that he was exaggerating his symptoms and that earlier concussions in college contributed to his condition. Still, the doctor cautioned him to consider the "probable long-term effects of repetitive concussions" before returning to the NFL, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in Mecklenburg County.
Nakamura, 30, said he already suffers from headaches, vision problems, fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts.
A U.S. Lloyd's spokeswoman, Lizzie Lowe, said the insurance consortium doesn't comment on pending litigation. A woman who worked on the case for Lloyd's underwriter, Empirical Loss Management, declined to comment.
Nakamura took a hit to the 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 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 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 experts 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.