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.”