Concussion Lawsuit Alleges DC United Ended Player’s Career

Charlie Horton's lawyers say DC United botched their concussion protocol and left their client unable to play

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Mar 31, 2017 at 1:10 PM ET

A former Major League Soccer goalie is suing his old coach, teammate, team, and league for their handling of a concussion that forced him into retirement. Charlie Horton, who played for D.C. United last year, accused Fabian Espíndola of concussing him after a team film session when the forward elbowed him in the head during an argument.

Horton was a promising young talent with two stints in English soccer leagues before signing with D.C. United. The team’s general manager, Dave Kasper, praised Horton as a “talented young goalkeeper with a bright future” when D.C. United acquired him last February. He started for Team USA’s under-23 men’s team, competing in qualifiers to gain entry to the 2016 Olympic Games. Still just 22 years old, Horton believes the injuries he sustained entitle him to punitive damages to compensate his loss in projected earnings.

While on the team, Horton and Espíndola had a contentious relationship. Horton alleged that Espíndola’s violent behavior wasn’t uncommon in his suit. He’s not wrong: Espíndola was suspended six games in 2014 for shoving a referee and was ejected from another game for hitting Montreal’s Felipe Martins in the head in 2015. Though the suit alleges United manager Benjamin Olsen knew of Espíndola’s past and remaining tendencies, Olsen also emphasized how much he admired his player’s behavior. In 2014, Olsen commended Espíndola for playing with a “fire in his belly,” telling the Washington Post that “We’ve seen [Espíndola’s propensity for violence] at times spill over, but I love it.”

Horton returned to practice the same day Espíndola “spilled over” his elbow into Horton’s left temple, which, if Horton’s accusations are correct, was a notable violation of MLS concussion protocol. According to the 18-page suit, Horton immediately started experiencing dizziness, shakiness, visual disturbances, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound, all symptoms associated with concussions. There was more than enough reason to rest him until his symptoms had passed.

After Horton symptoms had prevented him from even pretending he could be contribute to the team, United publicly admitted he received a practice injury, omitting that it happened because he got clocked in the head by his teammate.

Horton never fully recovered and suffers concussion symptoms to this day. “Due to the severity of his ongoing post-concussive neurological symptoms, which directly inhibited his ability to perform at a level necessary to continue his professional career,” Horton’s attorneys claim D.C. United mishandled his health all the way to an early retirement. Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Espíndola is still chugging along, currently competing in Mexico’s Liga MX.

Vocativ has contacted D.C. United requesting comment on Horton’s suit, and will update should the team provide any comment.