NFL Agrees to $765 Million Settlement In Concussion Lawsuit With Retired Players

Posted By Urban News Hour | August 29, 2013

The N.F.L. agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 retirees with advanced dementia and other health problems as well as the families of players who have died from what they claimed were the long-terms effects of head trauma.
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Some plaintiffs include the wives and the estates of players who have died, including Junior Seau.

The settlement will be seen as a positive outcome for the league, which, should the lawsuit have moved forward, was facing the potential of billions of dollars in liability payments and a lengthy and almost assuredly revealing discovery phase in which league officials and doctors would likely have been deposed. The settlement was not an admission by the league that it hid information on the long-term effects of head trauma from its players.

United States District Court Judge Anita B. Brody, from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said Thursday that she was informed by Layn Phillips, a court-appointed mediator, that the money would be used for medical exams, concussion-related compensation and a program of medical research for retired players and their families. The N.F.L. also agreed to pay legal fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers. The money, which may not be dispersed for many months, will be available to all eligible retired players, not just the plaintiffs. The players will have an opportunity to opt out of the deal.

Brody still must approve the settlement, which has yet to be filed.

“Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed,” Phillips said in a statement.

The settlement will include $675 million for players or the families of players who have suffered cognitive injury. As much as $75 million will be set aside for baseline medical exams. A $10 million research fund will be established. Assuming Brody signs off on the deal, it could take about 180 days for the players to start receiving compensation, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

“The big picture was we got immediate care to the retired players, and I think we accomplished that,” the lawyer, Christopher Seeger, said.

Seeger added that the players would not have to prove that their health issues were the result of concussions that they received in the N.F.L. Compensation will be paid based solely on a player’s age and years in the N.F.L., not the position he played or the number of concussions he might have sustained.

Approximately half of the settlement amount will be paid over the next three years, if the deal is approved, with the balance paid over the next 17 years.

Kevin Turner, 44, a former fullback for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots who has had A.L.S. for four years, said he was happy with the settlement because it will get money to needy players like himself and avoid years of potential litigation.

“I thought five years would be great and maybe I could live to see that,” said Turner, who spends about $8,500 a month on medicine and doctor visits. “There will always be people who said there should have been more, but they are probably not the ones with A.L.S. and at home.”

Turner said he and other plaintiffs never aimed to hurt the N.F.L. They only wanted to raise awareness about their injuries.

The N.F.L. has denied that it deliberately misled players about head injuries. The N.F.L. said it relied on the best science available at the time to create its policies on concussions. It also argued that the collective bargaining agreements signed by the league and its players union should govern any disputes, not the courts.

Brody was originally expected to rule on the league’s motion to dismiss in July, three months after she heard oral arguments by the lawyers representing both sides. Instead, she appointed a mediator to work with the league and the plaintiffs to see if a settlement could be reached out of court before she ruled. Mediators do not make binding rulings, but instead try to cajole the participants to narrow their differences.

The N.F.L., legal experts said, still must clarify how much of any settlement its insurance companies will cover. Several of them have argued in court that they do not have to indemnify the N.F.L. because of the policies they wrote. A lawyer representing Alterra America Insurance, which wrote one policy for one year for the N.F.L., told the judge that a settlement could cost $2.5 billion, a figure some legal experts considered conservative. The league and the plaintiffs had to consider their mounting legal bills.

The first concussion-related cases against the N.F.L. and Riddell, the helmet manufacturer, were filed more than two years ago and were consolidated in federal court in Pennsylvania to streamline their adjudication. The docket, which includes more than 5,000 filings, has ballooned to include cases brought by a raft of retirees who played decades ago, including stars like Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett. Some claim to have debilitating illnesses like advanced dementia, while others have symptoms that they fear may worsen without adequate medical monitoring.

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