Deal over NFL con­cus­sions could cost US$1 bil.


A fed­eral judge has ap­proved a set­tle­ment agree­ment that is ex­pected to cost the NFL US$1 bil­lion over 65 years to re­solve thou­sands of con­cus­sion law­suits.

NFL ac­tu­ar­ies project about 6,000 of the league’s nearly 20,000 re­tired play­ers could some­day de­velop Alzheimer’s dis­ease or mod­er­ate de­men­tia over the life of the deal ap­proved Wed­nes­day by a fed­eral judge in Philadel­phia. The av­er­age in­di­vid­ual award would be about US$190,000.

Awards could reach US$1 mil­lion to US$5 mil­lion for those di­ag­nosed in their 30s and 40s with Parkin­son’s dis­ease or Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease, or for deaths in­volv­ing chronic brain trauma.

The benefits process could start this sum­mer, but any ap­peal would de­lay all pay­ments in­def­i­nitely.

“What mat­ters now is time, and many re­tired play­ers do not have much left,” said plain­tiff Kevin Turner, a for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots and Philadel­phia Ea­gles run­ning back who has Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease.

The league has been dogged for years by com­plaints that it long hid the risks of re­peated con­cus­sions to re­turn play­ers to the field.

Se­nior U.S. Dis­trict Judge Anita B. Brody ap­proved the set­tle­ment af­ter twice send­ing it back to lawyers over con­cerns the fund might run out. The ne­go­tia­tors did not in­crease the orig­i­nal US$765 mil­lion plan, but agreed to re­move that num­ber as the cap.

The set­tle­ment ap­proval, a week be­fore the NFL draft, ends a nearly four-year legal fight. Crit­ics con­tend the NFL is get­ting off lightly given an­nual rev­enues of about US$10 bil­lion.

But a trial could have de­layed the fi­nan­cial awards and med­i­cal testing for years, plain­tiff’s lawyers Christo­pher Seeger and Sol Weiss said.

“With over 99 per­cent par­tic­i­pa­tion, it is clear the re­tired player com­mu­nity over­whelm­ingly sup­ports this agree­ment,” the lawyers said in a con­fer­ence call.

The deal means the NFL may never have to dis­close what it knew when about the risks and treat- ment of con­cus­sions. How­ever, the NFL has ac­knowl­edged the con­cus­sion epi­demic pub­licly, chang­ing pro­to­cols for eval­u­at­ing in­jured play­ers dur­ing games and launch­ing an ad­ver­tis­ing and so­cial me­dia cam­paign to pro­mote safe play at all lev­els of foot­ball.

NFL gen­eral coun­sel Jeff Pash said that Brody’s ap­proval “pow­er­fully un­der­scores the fair­ness and pro­pri­ety” of the set­tle­ment.

In her 132-page opin­ion, Brody agreed with the lead ne­go­tia­tors that the set­tle­ment could ex­clude fu­ture claims in­volv­ing chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy, even as crit­ics like neu­rol­o­gist Robert Stern of Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity call CTE “the industrial dis­ease of foot­ball.” Brody said nei­ther the dis­ease nor any de­fin­i­tive symptoms can yet be di­ag­nosed in the living.

“The set­tle­ment does com­pen­sate the cog­ni­tive symptoms al­legedly as­so­ci­ated with CTE,” Brody wrote, and “re­quires the par­ties to con­fer in good faith about pos­si­ble re­vi­sions ... based on sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ments.”

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