Ex-Lions player Scroggins files suit against NFL

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

A former Lions player who claims to suffer from memory loss is heading a new class-action lawsuit against the NFL with hopes of providing players with more medical assistance if they are diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy during their lifetime.

The suit filed by Tracy Scroggins, a linebacker and defensive end for the Lions from 1992-2001, charges the NFL with racketeering after concealing the relationship between repeated head trauma and CTE, a degenerative brain disease, among other claims.

Filed last Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the lawsuit came one day after am investigative story in The New York Times claimed NFL officials omitted more than 100 diagnosed concussions from their research from 1996-2001, which raises questions about the league’s findings as they relate to neurological disorders.

Tests that diagnose CTE in living patients remain in their infancy, but the lawsuit is demanding diagnosis, treatment and compensation for players found to have the disease.

NFL officials, who didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday, already have requested a dismissal of Scroggins’ lawsuit because he was a part of the league’s concussion settlement from April 2015, which means he’s prohibited from bringing separate litigation.

Although Scroggins’ attorney Tim Howard filed the initial complain, he said he plans to submit an updated one by the end of the week.

“We’re refining the theory and making sure we’ve got everything tied down before we go to war,” he said during a phone interview.

According to Howard, the 46-year-old Scroggins has been unemployed since his career ended 15 years ago and he deals with depression and bouts of anger among other symptoms.

“He will go someplace and forget where he’s going, where he’s at and why he’s going there,” Howard said. “It’s hard to stay employed if your memory doesn’t work.”

The lawsuit will represent three classes.

One will include the thousands of players included in the concussion settlement from April 2015, like Scroggins. Although the settlement provides monetary awards for players diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia, the NFL will only pay for certain cases of CTE diagnosed after death.

Since that settlement, a UCLA study identified signs of CTE in former Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill before his death. Dr. Bennet Omalu, credited with discovering the disease, told ESPN in February it was the first correlation between UCLA’s experimental testing and a posthumous examination.

The other two classes in the lawsuit are the 225 players who opted out of the initial settlement and the hundreds of players who retired since July 7, 2014, who weren’t included in the settlement.

The suit is seeking in excess of $5 million and is demanding a jury trial.

Ultimately, the goal of Scroggins’ lawsuit is to ensure NFL officials provide necessary assistance to players diagnosed with CTE while they’re alive. The lawsuit claims Scroggins has had a preliminary diagnosis of CTE, but Howard said he’s not yet undergone a PET scan or the UCLA study.

“We believe we’ll find it,” Howard said.

Although NFL officials publicly bashed the The New York Times story, including a demand for retraction, Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president for health and safety, said two weeks ago there was a connection between football and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE — the NFL’s first such public admission.

Like The Times story, Howard notes the NFL’s hiring of former tobacco law firms and lobbyists, and described it as a means to use deceptive strategies with the goal of hiding and denying the link between NFL-induced head trauma and CTE.

The league’s attorneys sent Howard a letter Monday demanding he and Scroggins immediately and voluntarily dismiss the complaint, but as of Wednesday, Howard had no plans to drop the case, which is also seeking improved medical monitoring for current players.