NFL Settles Concussion Lawsuit

Just days before trial was set to resume, the National Football League and thousands of former players have a reached tentative $765 million settlement in the pending concussion lawsuit. If approved by U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, the settlement will provide long-awaited financial support to players suffering from a variety of debilitating medical conditions they claim were caused by concussions.

Players began suing the NFL in 2011, alleging among other things, that the league concealed what it knew about the long-term dangers of concussions and did not properly care for players with head injuries. Although the proposed settlement does not include any admission of guilt or liability by the NFL, it does provide health screenings, care and compensation for all 18,000 former players.

Summary of the Proposed Concussion Lawsuit Settlement

  • NFL to pay $765 million, plus legal costs
    • $675 million would go toward medical exams and concussion-related compensation for NFL retirees and their families
    • $75 million for baseline medical exams
    • $10 million toward medical research and education
    • The remaining $5 million will be used to pay the costs of notice to class members and administrative expenses
  • The league admits no wrongdoing and is not required to disclose any documents relating to what or when they may have known about long-term dangers of concussions
  • Individual awards to players would be capped:
    • $5 million for players suffering from Alzheimer’s disease
    • $4 million for deaths from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
    • $3 million for players suffering from dementia.

Why Settle?

Many contend that the settlement is too low. ESPN sports business analyst Darren Rovell even went as far as to call the deal a “bargain” and a “drop in the bucket for the NFL” whose annual revenue was $9 billion last year. So why didn’t the players reject the settlement and proceed to trial?

Settlements offer certainty

Although a trial could potentially provide players with a larger settlement, the case was not a slam dunk. Plaintiff’s counsel would have to contend with contractual issues mandating arbitration. They would also have the difficulty of proving players’ symptoms stemmed from concussions which occurred while in the NFL (and not while in college or high school.)

The wheels of justice move slowly

Trials can be lengthy. Although the two years that has passed since the first claims were brought may seem like a long time, some legal analysts estimated that a full trial between the player and the NFL could take as long as ten years. Sadly, for players suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, dementia, and other cognitive brain disorders, time is not a luxury they possess.

In a court order, Judge Brody commended the parties for their negotiations and opined, “From the outset of this litigation, I have expressed my belief that the interests of all parties would be best served by a negotiated resolution of this case. The settlement holds the prospect of avoiding lengthy, expensive and uncertain litigation, and of enhancing the game of football.”

Moving forward

Former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator for the case, was also pleased with the outcome. “This is a historic agreement,” he said. “One that will make sure former NFL players who need and deserve the compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football.”

Not everyone else is as impressed. In an interview on NBC Nightly News, sports commentator Bob Costas said that many football fans, while they will continue to watch the game, will not let their children play the game. “Participation in youth football is down measurably over the past three years as information about head injuries becomes more generally known,” he reported. “And so the NFL has to be concerned about that. Not only for its own participants, but for players potentially coming up… No matter how popular they are, this is something that could erode that popularity if they don’t continue to deal with it.”

Parents around the country and the children in football and other youth sports programs must be made aware of the serious ramifications of repeated blows to the head. Ohio has already taken some legal steps to prevent injuries and raise awareness through its new Return to Play Laws. However, many predict that students will now be reluctant to report concussion symptoms to their coaches for fear of being taken out of the game.

 

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If you still don’t think that concussions are a serious problem, I invite you to read, “A Football Widow’s Traumatic Journey” by Tim Rohan. It is a stark, heart-wrenching story of Elanor Perfetto, the widow of former NFL player Ralph Wenzel. Published in the New York Times earlier this year, it details the sad degeneration of a once robust NFL lineman to a “skeleton with skin” who could no longer speak in complete sentences.

 

Sources:

NFL, players reach concussion deal” ESPN.com News Services, August 30, 2013.

NFL Set to Pay More Than $750M to Settle Lawsuits” by Howard Fendrich (AP), ABC News, August 30, 2013.

N.F.L. Agrees to Settle Concussion Suit for $765 Million” by Ken Belson, New York Times, August 30, 2013

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