CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A surgeon who was expected to be in court Monday for opening arguments of a civil suit by former NFL player Samari Rolle was found dead this morning in his apartment.

Charlotte surgeon Craig Brigham, who lived in the 4400 block of Mullens Ford Road in Charlotte, was found dead shortly after 7 a.m. Monday.

We are extremely sad to report that Dr. Craig Brigham passed away this morning from what appears to be causes related to an existing medical condition, Stephen Hass, a spokesperson for OrthoCarolina where Brigham worked, said in a statement. Dr. Brigham was an exceptional orthopedic surgeon and was a nationally recognized and well-respected expert in the treatment of spinal disorders over the course of his 29-year-career. We ask that you respect his family s and OrthoCarolina s privacy during this very difficult time.

The suit against Brigham, filed in 2011, claims he botched the former player s spinal fusion surgery in September 2008. Brigham and OrthoCarolina deny the claim.

Rolle, a cornerback who played at the University of Florida, was drafted by the Tennessee Oilers (now Titans) of the NFL and later played for the Baltimore Ravens.

He underwent surgery, performed by Brigham, on Sept. 30, 2008, to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra, according to court papers filed by both sides. Rolle s attorney, Gary Fox of Florida, claims the surgery was botched and that Brigham gave Rolle permission to resume playing too early.

The suit claims that Rolle was told by Brigham -- 23 days after the surgery -- that he could resume NFL activity. Rolle played the final six games of the 2008 season with the Ravens but didn t play again. He officially retired in 2010, saying he was suffering from stiffness in the neck, along with pain, numbness and tingling in the upper left part of his torso.

Rolle, 36, claims Brigham told him in a follow-up visit that the vertebra were in good shape, but he says that when he went for a second opinion from another doctor, he was told there was a non-union in the vertebra and that he should retire from professional football.

Brigham is being represented by Sara Lincoln, of Lincoln Derr LLC in Charlotte.

In legal papers filed to answer the suit, Lincoln and Brigham did not specify why they denied Rolle s claim.

Brigham has practiced medicine for more than 25 years and has performed surgery on a number of athletes, according to published reports. He was listed as a team physician for the Carolina Panthers in the mid 1990s.

Brigham has been in the news in the past few weeks, surrounding his assessment of an injury suffered by University of Georgia football player Jarvis Jones, who is expected to be a first-round selection in this week s NFL draft. Jones, a defensive end, suffered a neck injury, and one doctor diagnosed it as spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine). According to published reports, spinal stenosis is a serious condition that might scare teams away from drafting Jones.

Brigham examined Jones and instead diagnosed the problem as a spinal cord concussion and says the Georgia player has recovered.

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