Widow of Pio Sagapolutele is suing NFL & Riddell over ‘wrongful’ death

He died of a brain aneurysm
fili@samoanews.com

The widow of a former professional football player, who was born in American Samoa, has sued the National Football League (NFL) and the maker of football helmets, for an unspecified amount, which court documents say can be determined by a jury at trial.

Pio Sagapolutele was an American football defensive tackle who played seven seasons in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints, according to the 81-page lawsuit filed by Mrs. Yvonne Sagapolutele, and on behalf of her husband’s estate at the federal court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He retired in 1997 and died Jun. 7, 2009 at 39 years old, of a brain aneurysm. Before passing away, Pio Sagapolutele suffered from various symptoms of brain injury including mood swings and headaches, the suit states, according to the complaint, which named as defendants, the New York based NFL and its affiliates, as well as football helmet maker Riddell Inc., and its affiliates.

Neither the NFL nor Riddell have issued a public response to the suit, but they are expected to file soon with the federal court, their official response to the complaint, which listed 12 counts — including wrongful death and fraud — against the NFL and five counts against Riddell.

Court filings state that this case involved injuries that the deceased is alleged to have sustained while playing football in the NFL. Additionally it is part of a class action of the NFL players’ concussion suit pending in New York.

The plaintiff’s complaint contends that the Philadelphia federal court has jurisdiction over the defendants because they conduct substantial and continuous business in Pennsylvania.

The complaint also notes the plaintiff’s suit was rejected from the class action suit in New York because the amount in controversy for the plaintiff exceeds $75,000 — exclusive of costs, interest and attorney’s fees — while the overall amount in controversy in the NFL concussion class action exceeds $5 million — exclusive of costs, interest and attorneys fees.

According to the plaintiff, the lawsuit seeks a declaration of liability and financial compensation for the long-term chronic injuries, financial losses, expenses, and intangible losses suffered by Yvonne and Pio Sagapolutele as a result of defendants’ alleged intentional tortuous misconduct, including fraud, intentional misrepresentation, and negligence.

And the complaint alleges that the suit arises from pathological and debilitating effects of mild traumatic brain injuries, or MTBI, caused by the repeated concussive and sub-concussive impacts that afflicted Pio Sagapolutele and many other former professional football players in the NFL.

Under the wrongful death count, the complaint alleges that the NFL caused the deceased to develop the debilitating brain disease and conditions — as outlined in the lawsuit — and the “disease and conditions caused extreme pain, suffering, and anguish and, ultimately, the premature death of Pio Sagapolutele.”

The complaint also accused all of the defendants with “civil conspiracy and fraudulent concealment”, alleging that for decades, defendants, along with others who were employed by the NFL, acted in concert to perpetrate the fraudulent concealment of the connection between repetitive MTBI and long-term neuro-cognitive damage, illness, and decline.

It further alleges that the defendants knowingly failed to disclose and/or made continuing misrepresentations of material fact that there was an absence of any scientific basis to believe that repetitive MTBI created any known long-term neuro-cognitive risks to NFL players.

And the defendants alleged “misconduct... exposed Pio Sagapolutele to an increased risk of brain injury and was the proximate cause of Pio Sagapolutele’s brain injuries.” The complaint also alleged that Pio Sagapolutele suffered personal injuries as a result of the defendants’ concerted activities.

Plaintiff, who is demanding a jury trial, asked the court for compensatory and punitive damages against the NFL and its agents as well as Riddell and its agents. Plaintiff is also seeking other and further relief as may be appropriate.

An electronic court record, as of last Friday, shows no hearing dates set yet.

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