Where a party has filed claims relating to a severe concussion, that is a separate injury from latent neurological damage caused by repetitive head trauma, and the former does not indicate an awareness of the latter.

The 1st District Appellate Court reversed and remanded a decision from Cook County Circuit Judge John H. Ehrlich.

Haruki Nakamura played in the National Football League for six seasons, playing for the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers. On Aug. 29, 2013, he suffered an acute concussion in a preseason game, leading to months of headaches, impaired cognition, visual changes, fatigue and depression.

Nakamura was released by the Panthers and entered into a settlement for money in exchange for releasing any claims against the team. The concussion ended his career. On Nov. 8, 2013, he filed a disability insurance claim under a policy with Lloyd’s of London alleging permanent disability from Aug. 29, 2013, onwards.

In 2014, Nakamura was evaluated and diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, but the doctors retained by Lloyd’s of London concluded that he was not disabled and was free to return to football. As a result, Lloyd’s of London denied his claim.

He filed suit against Lloyd’s of London in 2016. Nakamura then applied for benefits from the NFL Player Retirement Plan claiming disability. He was originally denied, but on medical evaluation was deemed permanently disabled.

In 2017, Nakamura, as well as numerous other football players not party to this suit, filed suit against Riddell Inc. and its associated entities, a sports equipment manufacturer that makes the helmets for the NFL, alleging defective design as well as conspiring to misinform players about the risks of long-term brain damage.

Riddell moved to dismiss, arguing that the suit was barred by the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury, as Nakamura’s injury took place four years prior. Nakamura does not dispute the date of his final concussion or that he was diagnosed as permanently disabled more than two years before filing suit, but argued that the cause of action accrued more recently when he was made aware of the latent brain damage involved.

The circuit court dismissed the claims as untimely. Nakamura appealed.

The appellate court, examining other jurisdictions, noted that many courts distinguish between acute concussive injury and degenerative neurological disorders brought on by repetitive head trauma.

The appellate court found this distinction instructive, noting that Nakamura’s claims to Lloyd’s of London or the retirement plan related to the single severe 2013 concussion and its related post-concussion syndrome and effects, and not prior to the instant case, had he indicated any awareness that he may be suffering from latent long-term damage from a history of concussions rather than permanent disability from a single severe one.

Moreover, compensation from Lloyd’s or the retirement plan was simply to replace occupational income loss, not compensation for tortious actions leading to lifelong injury.

The appellate court emphasized that, while it’s possible Nakamura’s cause of action accrued prior to 2015, his actions before then indicate neither an awareness of the injury nor any attempt to divide his injury among multiple lawsuits.

The single severe concussion is a separate injury from the brain damage caused by repeated head trauma. As such, dismissal on the basis of timeliness was inappropriate.

The appellate court. therefore. reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Haruki Nakamura v. BRG Sports LLC, et al.

2019 IL App (1st) 180397

Writing for the court: Justice John C. Griffin

Concurring: Justices Daniel J. Pierce and Carl Anthony Walker

Released: Oct. 21, 2019