Aaron Hernandez’s Child Can’t Sue NFL Over Brain Disease

February 17, 2019 Updated: February 17, 2019

PHILADELPHIA—The 6-year-old daughter of the late NFL player Aaron Hernandez missed a 2014 deadline to opt out of the league’s concussion settlement and can’t separately pursue a $20 million suit over his diagnosis of a degenerative brain disease, a judge ruled.

Yet Hernandez’s death in 2017 came too late for his family to seek up to $4 million in compensation for suicides related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy under the class action settlement.

Hernandez spent three years with the New England Patriots before his 2013 arrest on the first of three homicide charges. The Patriots terminated his $40 million contract, and he never returned to the NFL.

Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots celebrates after catching a 12 yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady #12 in the third quarter against Deon Grant #34 of the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Feb. 5, 2012. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia—where lawsuits were consolidated alleging the NFL hid what it knew about the risks of concussion injuries—ruled Thursday, Feb. 14, that he was effectively retired and therefore, along with his family, bound by the class action settlement for NFL retirees.

Under terms of the concussion settlement, the judge said, “The crux of the issue is whether Hernandez was ‘seeking active employment’ as an NFL football player as of July 7, 2014. He was not. On this date, Hernandez had been imprisoned—without bail—for nearly a year.”

Family lawyer Brad Sohn argued that Hernandez had not retired but hoped to be exonerated and return to the league. His daughter, Sohn said, should, therefore, be able to pursue her “loss of consortium” lawsuit in her home state of Massachusetts.

“No matter what anybody wants to say about Aaron Hernandez. she will have to live with the fact that she doesn’t have a parent for the rest of her life,” Sohn said Friday. “It remains our position that the NFL is responsible for the damages that she has because of his CTE.”

Hernandez was convicted in the first homicide case in 2015 but acquitted of an unrelated double homicide in April 2017. He took his life days later in prison. His conviction was later overturned because he died before exhausting his appeals.

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Former New England Patriots NFL football player Aaron Hernandez, center, stands with defense attorney Charles Rankin, left, at the conclusion of a pre-trial hearing at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, on Dec. 22, 2015. (Steven Senne/AP)

Doctors later found the 27-year-old Hernandez had advanced CTE on a level not previously seen in someone that young.

Sohn, in a brief in the case, called Hernandez “a generational talent” but said he “entered the NFL in 2010, even though he had been investigated for ties to a brutal 2007 shooting. The NFL paid no mind to this and let him play.”

The daughter involved in the lawsuit is the child of Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins.

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Shayanna Jenkins, fiancee of former New England Patriots NFL football tight end Aaron Hernandez, arrives at Attleboro District Courtroom in Attleboro, Mass., on July 24, 2013. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP)

“A.H., a child, committed no crime nor asked to be born into such tragic circumstances,” Sohn wrote.

By Maryclaire Dale