By: Vidur Malik
The NFL and the thousands of former players who sued the league for neglecting to tell them about the effects of concussions have reached a $765 million settlement. The settlement ends an already long and drawn-out lawsuit that eventually grew to include more than 4,500 plaintiffs. It awards them and fellow retirees the bulk of the settlement.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the deal, which must be approved by United States District Court Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia, is that it places no responsibility on the NFL for the plaintiffs’ main accusation: that the NFL hid the harmful effects of concussions from its players.
“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,” said court-appointed mediator Layn Phillips, who helped the two sides reach the August 29 deal, in a statement.
The league, according to the agreement, will distribute $675 million to players and families of players who sustained severe cognitive trauma, including Alzheimer’s, dementia or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). All retired players with such injuries are eligible for the money, not just the suit’s plaintiffs. Factors for compensation include the player’s age, the number of years he played and the severity of his injuries. An independent group of doctors will decide the amount of compensation players receive.
Up to $75 million will be used for baseline medical tests and $10 million will go towards a fund for research. The league will also pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Former players can also continue receiving benefits agreed upon in the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
(Read the stories of the players profiled by Columbia University’s sports journalism students.)
If the deal is approved, the league will pay about half the settlement over three years and the remainder over the next 17 years.
Though the settlement can be seen as a win for the league, it also gets money to the players, who now do not have to navigate the other phases of the case. Players with the most severe medical conditions may not have even been around to receive the money had the case continued.
NFL Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash said in a statement, “We thought it was critical to get more help to players and families who deserve it rather than spend many years and millions of dollars on litigation.”
Former fullback Kevin Turner, who suffers from ALS and became one of the faces of the suit, is one such player. “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 told the New York Times.
Players who have or develop severe conditions like A.L.S., Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease can receive up to $5 million. Deceased players who were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can, through their estates, receive up to $4 million and players who have dementia can get up to $3 million.
According to ESPN, the plaintiffs’ lawyers initially wanted $2 billion from the NFL in the settlement, which was agreed to after Brody informed both sides of the legal issues their cases faced.
Brody will now decide whether to give preliminary approval to the settlement. If she approves, she would hear any objections to the deal from retired players. After hearing objections, Brody can grant final approval. A ruling is expected in two or three months.
The first lawsuit was filed in July 2011 and included 75 former players. The number of plaintiffs eventually grew to more than 4,000 and included the estates of deceased players Andre Waters, Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson and Junior Seau – who all committed suicide and showed signs of neurological damage.