Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17 L 10123
Honorable John H. Ehrlich, Judge Presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE GRIFFIN delivered the judgment of the
court, with opinion. Justices Pierce and Walker concurred in
the judgment and opinion.
Griffin Presiding Justice.
1 Like the other opinion filed simultaneously with this one,
issue in this appeal concerns a former professional football
player who sustained repeated concussions while playing
football. Evolving scientific and medical research has
uncovered a link between a person suffering repeated blows to
the head and that person developing Chronic Traumatic
Encephalopathy and a host of other neurological impairments.
The former player, plaintiff Haruki Nakamura, is suing the
defendant-helmet manufacturers for the significant medical
conditions he has developed as a result of the head trauma he
endured while playing football.
2 Plaintiff filed a disability insurance claim with an
insurance company in 2013 when he suffered one particularly
severe concussion that ultimately ended his career. When
plaintiff filed this suit, defendants responded that the case
was barred by the two-year statute of limitations that
governs personal injury actions in Illinois. Defendants argue
that plaintiff knew about his injuries when he filed the
insurance claim in 2013 and became involved in litigation in
connection with that claim. Thus, defendants argue, the
statute of limitations began to run more than two years
before this case was filed in 2017, so this case is untimely.
3 The trial court agreed with defendants' argument and
dismissed the case. We find that, at a minimum, the
allegations at least leave open the possibility that there is
a question of fact as to whether plaintiffs disability claim
and his conduct associated with that claim caused the statute
of limitations to begin to run for the harm for which
plaintiff now seeks redress. Accordingly, we reverse the
trial court's dismissal of plaintiff s claims and we
remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
4 I. BACKGROUND
5 Plaintiff Haruki Nakamura is a former professional football
player who sustained multiple concussions while playing
football. He played six seasons in the National Football
League, playing for both the Baltimore Ravens and the
Carolina Panthers. In a preseason game on August 29, 2013,
plaintiff suffered an acute concussion. Plaintiff was taken
to the hospital and he was diagnosed with a concussion. In
the following months, plaintiffs condition worsened and he
experienced headaches, impaired cognition, visual changes,
fatigue, depression, and suicidal ideation. Plaintiff was
released from his contract by the Carolina Panthers and he
entered into a settlement with the team for money in exchange
for a release of any claims he might have had against the
6 The concussion that plaintiff suffered in August 2013
eventually ended his career. Plaintiff filed a disability
insurance claim on November 8, 2013 under a policy issued by
Lloyd's of London. In furtherance of his claim with
Lloyd's of London, plaintiff stated that he had a
permanent disability and claimed that he was suffering from
several post-concussive symptoms. Plaintiff stated that he
became permanently disabled on the day he was released from
his contract by the Carolina Panthers and his football career
7 In 2014, plaintiff was evaluated by medical professionals
and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. The doctor
that evaluated plaintiff opined that plaintiff was unlikely
to return to playing professional football and that, to a
reasonable degree of medical certainty, plaintiff was
permanently disabled with post-concussion syndrome. Plaintiff
was also evaluated by doctors retained by Lloyd's of
London. Those doctors opined that plaintiff was not
permanently disabled, that he could participate in his
occupation of playing professional football, and that whether
plaintiff would return to playing professional football was
his choice. Lloyd's of London denied plaintiffs
8 Plaintiff then sought benefits from the NFL Player
Retirement Plan claiming a permanent disability. The
Retirement Plan first denied plaintiffs claim, but plaintiff
was referred to a neurologist for an evaluation in connection
with his claim for benefits from the Retirement Plan. The
evaluating physician found that "[plaintiffs]
constellation of symptoms, including cognitive impairment,
debilitating headaches, dizziness/vertigo, and behavioral
changes characterized by irritability, depression, anxiety
and outbursts, is consistent with a chronic post-concussion
syndrome." The doctor went on to conclude that plaintiff
met the criteria for permanent disability, and the Retirement
Plan reversed its decision and awarded benefits to plaintiff.
9 Still believing his disability insurance claim with
Lloyd's of London was improperly denied, plaintiff filed
suit against Lloyd's of London in North Carolina in 2016.
Plaintiff repeated that he was permanently disabled. The
doctor who evaluated plaintiff for his lawsuit against
Lloyd's of London found that plaintiffs then-existing
cognitive impairments may well have been caused by the August
29, 2013 head injury-the concussion that ended plaintiffs
career. The doctor diagnosed plaintiff with chronic
post-concussion syndrome on October 8, 2015.
10 While plaintiff was pursuing his insurance claim,
thousands of other retired NFL players were suing the League
seeking redress for claims that the NFL failed to inform them
about and protect them from the risks of concussions in
football. See, e.g., In re National Football League
Players Concussion Injury Litigation, 821 F.3d 410 (3d
Cir. 2016). The players' suits were consolidated into a
federal class action case which eventually consisted of about
5, 000 former players who had filed substantially similar
lawsuits. In re National Football League Players'
Concussion Injury Litigation, 307 F.R.D. 351, 361 (E.D.
Pa. 2015). The National Football League settled lawsuits with
the former players involved in the federal class action case.
In re National Football League Players Concussion Injury
Litigation, 821 F.3d 410, 447-48 (3d Cir. 2016).
Plaintiff was not a party to the federal class action case
against the NFL.
11 Plaintiff has not yet been diagnosed with a severe
neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's or dementia
like many of the former players that sued the NFL. See
Butler v. BRG Sports, LLC, 2019 IL App (1st) 180362,
¶¶ 10-13. Nonetheless, plaintiff characterizes his