An Indianapolis attorney said he will be assisting the family of late former NFL player Lawrence Phillips document brain injuries that might have contributed to his apparent suicide in a California prison this week.
Cohen & Malad LLP partner Dan Chamberlain said he’s helping Phillips’ estate secure his brain for testing at the CTE Center at Boston University, a leading facility for the diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can be confirmed only after death. Chamberlain said he believes Phillips is among a class of retired NFL players the league is shortchanging in its $1 billion concussion settlement approved last year.
Phillips, 40, died Wednesday after he was found unresponsive in a California prison where he had been housed alone in a segregation cell since April 2015, the Associated Press reported. Phillips was facing a possible death-penalty trial after being charged with murdering his cellmate. Phillips’ cause of death was not available Thursday morning. Officials at Kern Valley State Prison released few details but said guards transported Phillips to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead early Wednesday morning.
A star running back who helped lead the Nebraska Cornhuskers to two national titles in the 1990s, Phillips came into the NFL with a record as a domestic violence offender and a reputation for disciplinary problems. He played just three seasons in the NFL, his career shortened in part by off-the-field criminal charges.
Chamberlain, who is chairman of the board of the Brain Injury Association of America, said he’d been in contact with Phillips in an attempt to increase his benefits under the settlement before his death. Now, he’s trying to coordinate with Phillips’ mother, prison staff and a California coroner the transfer of Phillips’ brain to the Boston facility for analysis. He suspects Phillips may have had CTE caused by repeated trauma to the head.
“Basically I’ve been trying to help these guys figure out how to help themselves and how to help their families, and unfortunately, it looks like Lawrence couldn’t take it anymore,” Chamberlain said.
An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Chamberlain also represents one-time Colts quarterback Art Schlichter in a suit seeking broader coverage from the NFL from its brain injury settlement. The suit claims the league is failing to properly credit Schlichter for years in which he was on an NFL roster but suspended. The suit says Schlichter, 55, is suffering from Parkinson’s disease as he serves time in the federal correctional institute in Terre Haute.
Under the NFL concussion settlement, retired players undergo a baseline assessment protocol that classifies brain injuries on a scale of one to four with CTE, ALS and Parkinson’s at the top end of the scale. Ex-players or their estates are entitled to compensation from $1.5 million to $5 million each depending on the severity of the diagnosis. That amount is incrementally reduced for retirees credited with fewer than five years as “active players.”
Chamberlain said the average NFL career span is less than four years. In many of those cases, he said, the league’s failure to adequately compensate for the long-term care needs of those with brain injuries means those costs will fall to Medicare or Medicaid.