Pro Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen’s Family Settles Mesothelioma Lawsuit

Football player Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen’s lifetime exposure to asbestos, which caused the mesothelioma cancer that eventually killed him, began as early as age 11 with a summer job on a construction site, leading to the recent settlement between his family and 10 companies that used or manufactured the product.

Olsen, a Hall of Fame football star who also became a successful actor and broadcaster, died March 11, 2010, at age 69, three months after the lawsuit was filed.

Attorneys for his wife filed a notice in Los Angeles, California, earlier this month that the lawsuit had been settled, according to the Associated Press. No details were provided.

Olsen is one of several well-known Americans – actors, athletes, politicians – that have died from mesothelioma, which normally is associated with construction work and military service.

Although there were 25 defendants named in the original lawsuit. Many were dropped, according to the Contra Costa Times, before the final settlement was reached, including NBC Studios, where he once worked as a broadcaster.

The suit contended that companies negligently exposed him to asbestos, particularly in his formative years growing up in Utah, where he worked summer jobs doing construction, as far back as 1951.

According to the original lawsuit, Olsen’s mesothelioma was “caused from significant cumulative lifetime exposure to many asbestos products, including heavy equipment parts.”

A two-time All-America football player at Utah State University (1959-61), Olsen played 15 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. As an actor, he was a regular on the television series “Little House on the Prairie,” and then starred in his own series, “Father Murphy.”

Before his mesothelioma diagnosis in 2009, he had been in talks with Leigh Steinberg, the well-known sports/entertainment agent about resuming his career as a product spokesman. Earlier this year, at the family’s request, Steinberg gave a lengthy deposition in Olsen’s case, detailing his future earnings potential.

Efforts to reach Steinberg this month at his California office were unsuccessful, but he detailed Olsen’s plight, and was the first to report the lawsuit had been settled. Steinberg wrote about Olsen and the case in a column for the National Football Post in August.

Steinberg said that Georgia Pacific and Caterpillar were among the defendants in Olsen’s lawsuit. Earlier stories reported that Sherwin-Williams and Lennox Corp. also were part of the case.

Here is a memorial video of Olsen and a video of a recent radio interview with him:


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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