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Federal trustee has eyes on Duerson’s NFL proposed brain injury settlement

Dave Duers1999

Dave Duerson in 1999

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:43AM

A federal trustee in Miami has reopened the bankruptcy case of deceased Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson in hopes of staking a claim to any money paid his family in connection with the NFL’s proposed brain injury settlement.

Talk about cold.

Court records show Trustee Marcia Dunn moved to reopen Duerson’s bankruptcy in September following news reports the NFL would pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 retired players and their families.

Duerson’s four children filed suit against the league and helmet maker Riddell in 2012, blaming football for brain injuries they say led to his suicide. Their case was later consolidated with other concussion-related suits brought by former players.

Under terms of the settlement, which still must be approved by a federal judge in Philadelphia, Duerson’s children could be eligible for the maximum $4 million payout.

Now, though, the trustee has raised the specter of siphoning off that money to pay his creditors.

Duerson shocked the football world in February 2011 when he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. He was 50.

Before pulling the trigger, Duerson left a message for his family: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”

Researchers found that the two-time Super Bowl champion and Notre Dame All-America suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease they believe is caused by sports concussions.

Five months prior to his suicide, Duerson filed for bankruptcy in Florida and listed $14.7 million in liabilities — mostly the result of his failed efforts to operate a meat processing business that supplied fast food franchises.

His only significant asset listed in the bankruptcy was a $34 million judgment against a bankrupt Wisconsin company, which proved worthless.

In the end, his estate produced just $19,501, most of which went to pay lawyers and administrative expenses. His major creditors didn’t even bother to pursue claims.

A bankruptcy judge closed out the case in early September.

Almost immediately, Dunn asked to reopen the case, arguing she had just learned Duerson “possessed a claim against the National Football League, amongst others” that he had failed to disclose in his bankruptcy filings.

She said the claim is therefore property of Duerson’s estate and that she must distribute the asset to his creditors.

That seems a little odd considering Duerson never brought any claim against the NFL before his death, which would have made it difficult for him to disclose, but I’m sure there’s a way for lawyers to parse an argument.

Neither Duerson’s oldest son, Tregg, who has been a spokesman for the family on the lawsuit, or Duerson’s ex-wife, Alicia, could be reached for comment.

But the family’s lawyers at Corboy & Demetrio did not seem particularly concerned by the bankruptcy trustee’s maneuver when I reached them Friday.

“We are aware of the development. We are in touch with the lawyers down there. While we believe the issue is entirely premature, we are confident this will be a non-issue,” said William Gibbs, one of their lawyers.

Thomas Demetrio explained that one of the reasons they believe it to be premature is that the settlement may yet be scuttled by the judge in Philadelphia, and even if it is approved, the Duerson family will have to decide whether to opt-in or pursue a separate claim in court.

On top of all that, he said, any proceeds from a wrongful death action like the one they filed must by law be paid to Duerson’s children and wouldn’t become part of his estate.

I’d guess the bankruptcy trustee might argue otherwise, but couldn’t reach her or her lawyer handling the case.

There’s been a lot of chatter about what the hard-hitting old school Duerson would have thought about his children filing their lawsuit.

But I can’t believe there’s any doubt about what he would have thought about somebody else getting their share of the NFL payout.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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