A federal district court in Louisiana has ruled that a professional arena football player could not assert intentional tort claims against the league stemming from concussions he allegedly had received but, rather, was limited to pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.
Lorenzo Breland alleged in the lawsuit he filed against Arena Football One, L.L.C. (“AFO”), which owns Arena Football League One, LLC (“AFLO”), and Louisiana Arena Football, L.L.C. (“LAF”), which owns the New Orleans Voodoo franchise, that he sustained a concussion in 2011 while employed as a professional arena football player for the Tulsa Talons, part of the AFO league.
According to Mr. Breland, after the team doctor diagnosed him, the team encouraged him to return and he started the following game.
Subsequently, Mr. Breland asserted, he played for the New Orleans Voodoo and sustained a severe blow to the head during a game on April 11, 2014, which caused a second concussion.
Mr. Breland claimed that, after the 2014 concussion, he received inadequate medical attention and care and was pressured to return to playing football before he was fully rehabilitated.
He alleged that, after complaining to the coach about his continued health problems, he was sent to a speech pathologist. He alleged that this head injury caused him to remain bedridden for six weeks, and that he ultimately was suspended from the league and cut from the LAF team.
Mr. Breland asserted that the 2014 concussion ended his career, and that the defendants had not paid for his ongoing medical care or rehabilitation to allow him to return to play in a healthy manner. He stated that he continued to suffer long-term problems, including dizziness, memory loss, headaches, weight loss, neck aches, and fatigue, and that he faced an increased risk for future disorders as a result of the injuries.
Asserting causes of action for misrepresentation, fraud, negligence, and breach of contract, Mr. Breland sought damages, past and future medical expenses related to the concussions, and medical monitoring to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of future disorders caused by the injuries. He asserted that the AFO knew of the potential risks associated with head trauma but intentionally concealed them; that the AFO fostered an environment of brutality and violence and ignored the well-being of its players for the sake of profit; and that the defendants had breached their duties by failing to take appropriate steps to prevent or mitigate the potential for injury, avoiding such steps due to the expense and impact on league profitability.
Mr. Breland claimed that the defendants had falsely represented to him that he would receive excellent medical care, which they failed to provide. He also alleged that the league players’ collective bargaining agreement created an obligation that the defendants pay all medical expenses resulting from any injury sustained while playing in a game, but that the defendants had acted in bad faith and had refused to pay any expenses incurred as a result of his 2014 concussion.
Mr. Breland sought:
- Declaratory Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2201 stating that the defendants knew or should have known about the long-term effects of trauma to the head that Mr. Breland had endured while playing for the AFO, had a duty to advise him of that risk but instead willfully and intentionally concealed the risk, and recklessly endangered him;
- An injunction for court-supervised and defendant-funded medical monitoring for long-term neurological affects as a result of Mr. Breland’s minor traumatic brain injuries (“MTBI”), which he alleged were a result of the defendants’ tortious conduct;
- Compensatory damages for past, current, and future medical care;
- Compensatory damages for pain and suffering;
- Punitive damages;
- Any other relief; and
- Attorneys’ fees.
The AFO moved for summary judgment, maintaining that Mr. Breland’s suit was precluded because at the time of his alleged injuries, he was an employee of the AFO and, therefore, only could seek recovery through the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act (“LWCA”).
For his part, Mr. Breland contended that because he had alleged that the AFO had acted with specific intent to cause him injury and damages and because intentional torts were excluded from the LWCA, his suit was properly before the court. In support of his contention that the AFO had desired to harm him, Mr. Breland relied on his deposition in which he suggested that the April 2014 hit had been ordered by the commissioner.
The District Court’s Decision
The district court granted the AFO’s motion.
In its decision, the district court explained that, as an employee of the AFO, Mr. Breland had to seek recourse only through the LWCA unless the intentional act exception in the LWCA applied, providing an avenue for him to sue in tort.
The district court then found that the intentional act exception did not apply.
It reasoned that Mr. Breland had failed to provide “any evidence of an intentional desire to harm” him beyond the “unsubstantiated allegation that the commissioner may have intentionally directed a player to hit him.” Under Louisiana law, the district court ruled, this allegation was “insufficient evidence” that the AFO had consciously desired the physical result of its act.
The district court also rejected Mr. Breland’s argument that his injuries had been “substantially certain to occur,” notwithstanding the “litany of literature regarding the connections between brain injury and repeated traumatic impact” cited by Mr. Breland. The district court agreed with the AFO that there was no study that indicated that any injury was “substantially certain to follow from participating in a football game.” It stated:
While it is undisputed that football is a dangerous sport that often causes harm to its participants, the connection between brain injury and football does not rise to the level of substantial certainty.
The district court conceded that it was “not uncommon for football players to experience brain injury,” but declared that brain injury was “not ‘inevitable’ as [was] required to meet the exception to the LWCA.”