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Settlement Reached in NFL Concussion Lawsuit; Appeals to Follow?

Written by Tom Crosley
Brain Injuries, Catastrophic Personal Injury

On Wednesday, a federal district judge in Philadelphia approved a settlement in the NFL concussion lawsuit, which was filed by over 5,000 former NFL players against the league for intentionally concealing the dangers of concussions. While the case will likely face further appeal(s), this settlement represents a significant step in bringing an end toward this fierce, high-profile legal battle.

A preliminary deal was originally reached in August of 2013, but Judge Anita B. Brody had requested that the two sides amend the agreement to remove limitations on the total amount of potential spending related to damages and medical monitoring, according to the New York Times (link). The settlement also allots $10 million for concussion education, and the NFL has agreed to pay $112 million in fees for the players’ counsel.

Players who have been diagnosed with a severe neurological disorder covered as part of the settlement are eligible to receive as much as $5 million. While this is a substantial amount of money, many critics assert that the settlement should have had a broader scope to include other medical conditions (memory loss, irritability, depression, and difficulty sleeping) and a provision allowing for future medical discoveries, most notably in regard to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Also many aren’t happy that payments can be decreased based on the player’s age, number of seasons played, and/or how closely related a non-football stroke or TBI is to the original “Qualifying Diagnosis,” among other, more ambiguous factors.

The maximum payment schedule for each qualifying diagnosis is as follows:

  • $1.5 million – Level 1.5 neurocognitive impairment
  • $3 million – Level 2 neurocognitive impairment
  • $3.5 million – Parkinson’ disease
  • $3.5 million – Alzheimer’s disease
  • $4 million – Death with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy)
  • $5 million – ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)

In addition to forcing the league to acknowledge their culpability in the health and well-being of former players, another dispute arose (this one among the plaintiffs themselves) regarding the urgency of the settlement. Many former players are upset that the deal covers all retired players, not only those who were involved in the suit – a move designed to avoid future legal battles. This is especially contentious for the more than 200 players who dropped out of the suit in order to pursue further legal action against the league. Individual players who opted out of the settlement will still be given the opportunity to settle with the league on their own, however, and the family of deceased former Pro Bowler, Dave Duerson, has already made it clear that they plan to file an appeal.

While some players would rather continue to fight for the best possible settlement to protect themselves and future players, others have accepted the deal with the understanding that they may not have been able to defeat the NFL in a trial. One such former player, Kevin Turner, has stressed the need to help former players in the present as much as the future. Mr. Turner is a retired fullback who played eight years in the NFL and now suffers from ALS. “What matters now is time, and many retired players do not have much left,” said Turner. “I hope this settlement is implemented without delay so that we can finally start helping those in need.”

Stating that the settlement is “fair, reasonable and adequate,” Judge Brody addressed several of these criticisms. And, given that she twice requested that the two sides revise the settlement, it seems unlikely that the appellate court would overturn the settlement. Said Scott Rosner, an attorney and faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, “My sense is that the appellate court in this instance will give some pretty significant deference to Judge Brody.” Still, in the unlikely event that all or part of the settlement is overturned, the case will likely return to Judge Brody’s court anyway. It’s also expected that she will assume jurisdiction over cases of the more than 200 players who opted out of the settlement.

Reference:

Belson, K. (2015, April 22). Judge approves deal in N.F.L. Concussion Suit. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/sports/football/nfl-concussion-settlement-is-given-final-approval.html?_r=0

Moskovitz, D. (2015, April 22). The NFL’s concussion settlement is approved. Deadspin. Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/the-nfls-concussion-settlement-is-approved-1699586689

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