Bentley's staph suit against Browns OK'd by Ohio appeals court

A state appeals court has ruled in favor of former Cleveland Browns player LeCharles Bentley, saying the team can't force NFL arbitration to halt a lawsuit on his career-ending staph infection.

The Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland on Thursday upheld a Cuyahoga County judge's ruling, saying the issue is not related to the collective bargaining agreement and can be handled in county court.

Bentley's attorney has said the former offensive lineman nearly died from the infection he contracted while rehabbing from a knee injury at the team's facility. The team is accused of persuading Bentley to rehab at the site and failing to tell him about unsanitary conditions and other players who had contracted staph.

The team had argued that state and federal laws support arbitration over litigation.

Bentley, 31, filed suit nearly a year ago in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and is seeking at least $25,000 in damages. He tore the patella tendon in his left knee on the first team drill of the Browns' 2006 training camp, underwent four surgeries -- two of them to clean out the staph infection, which ate away at his tendon -- and never played a game for the Browns, although he returned to compete in the team's minicamp in 2008 before asking for his release.

Bentley started 57 games from 2002 to 2005 with the New Orleans Saints before signing a six-year, $36 million contract with the Browns as a free agent.

The Browns had at least six players stricken with some sort of staph infection in recent years, including former receiver Joe Jurevicius, who settled a similar lawsuit with the team last year. When the Jurevicius lawsuit was settled, a team attorney said the Browns' sanitation and hygiene practices were at the highest state-of-the-art level in the league.

Browns players Brian Russell, Ben Taylor, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards also battled staph.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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