On April 19, 2017, Aaron Hernandez was found hanging by his bed sheets in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts. The former Florida Gator and New England Patriot had been serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez's asked that his brain be studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and doctors at the Boston University CTE Center confirmed Hernandez had Stage 3 (out of four) brain injuries, allegedly "the most severe case of [CTE] medically seen" in a person at his age.
Hernandez's fiancee Shayanna Jenkins is now suing the Patriots and the NFL on behalf of the couple's four-year-old daughter, Avielle Janelle Hernandez, seeking $20 million in damages for loss of parental consortium.
According to BU's CTE Center, the degenerative condition is associated with "aggressiveness, explosiveness, impulsivity, depression, memory loss and other cognitive changes." Their examination of Hernandez revealed not only extensive CTE, but also "early brain atrophy and large perforations in the septum pellucidum, a central membrane."
Jenkins' lawsuit claims that the NFL and the Patriots "were fully aware of the damage that could be inflicted from repetitive impact injuries and failed to disclose, treat, or protect [Hernandez] from the dangers of such damage." The suit says medical exams prior to Hernandez's NFL career and each season from 2010-2013 would have revealed his cognitive impairment, and "it was not safe for Aaron to continue playing football."
Loss of consortium claims are generally limited to a husband or wife who, through injury or death, has lost their spouse's support, cooperation, aid, and companionship. Jenkins' lawsuit claims Avielle "was deprived the love, affection, society, and companionship of her father while he was alive."
As Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann points out, however, the suit could face a few legal hurdles. As an initial matter, Jenkins' claims may be preempted by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which dictates that disputes over player health matters must first go to arbitration. The claims may also have been subsumed by the NFL's multi-billion dollar concussion settlement.
And then, even if the lawsuit makes it to trial, Jenkins may have trouble proving Hernandez's injuries were sustained in the NFL (as opposed to during his collegiate playing career at UF), or that his CTE was directly linked to his suicide. Perhaps fatigued from negative concussion coverage, the NFL and Patriots may seek to settle the claims quietly, but the league has never been a litigant that admits liability easily.