NFL con­cus­sion fund pays out $485M, but le­gal fights re­sume

The News-Times - - SPORTS -

PHILADEL­PHIA — The NFL con­cus­sion fund has paid out nearly $500 mil­lion in its first two years, but some play­ers’ lawyers say there aren’t enough doc­tors in the approved net­work to eval­u­ate de­men­tia claims.

They went to court Tues­day to op­pose a rule to re­quire re­tired play­ers to be tested by doc­tors within 150 miles (241 kilo­me­ters) of home to pre­vent “doctor shop­ping” and sus­pected fraud.

Fund ad­min­is­tra­tor Or­ran Brown said ex­play­ers from around the coun­try had flocked to four doc­tors now dis­missed from the pro­gram who had “high-vol­ume” traf­fic and some sus­pect find­ings.

“We didn’t no­tice it un­til the claims were com­ing in,” Brown said. “Forty-six mil­lion dol­lars went out the door on these claims be­fore we could flag it.”

Re­tired play­ers can seek awards of as much as $3 mil­lion for mod­er­ate de­men­tia and $1.5 mil­lion for mild de­men­tia, although most men would get far less based on their age and years in the league. The set­tle­ment re­solves thou­sands of law­suits that al­leged the NFL long hid what it knew about the risk of con­cus­sions.

Se­nior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who has over­seen the case since 2011, sug­gested the travel limit is needed to pre­vent abuse.

“A few were brought to my at­ten­tion where we had a lawyer from Penn­syl­va­nia and a player from Florida go­ing to a doctor in Texas. And that was a red flag,” Brody said.

Philadel­phia lawyer Gene Locks, who rep­re­sents some 1,100 re­tired play­ers, urged Brody not to adopt the rule, say­ing his clients agreed to the set­tle­ment be­liev­ing they could choose their own doc­tors.

“They had bad ex­pe­ri­ences with the NFL ben­e­fit pro­gram, both dur­ing their play­ing time and after their play­ing time, when they felt they were used and abused, and were not go­ing to the doc­tors they wanted to,” Locks ar­gued.

He said there are at least 30 dif­fer­ent sub­spe­cial­ties of neu­rol­ogy, only a few of them well­suited to eval­u­ate his clients.

Brown ac­knowl­edged he’s still try­ing to re­cruit doc­tors in some parts of the coun­try for the pro­gram. He sug­gested Brody adopt the 150-mile (241kilo­me­ter) rule but al­low him to grant ex­cep­tions. The fund, ex­pected to pay out more than $1 bil­lion over 65 years, has paid out $485 mil­lion so far, and an­other $174 mil­lion in claims have been approved, Brown said.

The NFL has ap­pealed about 30% of the approved claims, but closer to 15% if the four doc­tors re­moved from the pro­gram aren’t counted, ac­cord­ing to play­ers lawyer David Buchanan.

If some­one wants to travel “to see a worl­drenowned physi­cian, or a world-renowned neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, they should have that right,” Buchanan said.

Lawyers for the NFL mon­i­tored the hear­ing but did not take part in Tues­day’s ar­gu­ments.

The set­tle­ment, forged in 2013 and later amended, of­fers more than 20,000 re­tired play­ers base­line test­ing and com­pen­sa­tion of up to $5 mil­lion for the most se­ri­ous ill­nesses linked to foot­ball con­cus­sions, in­clud­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease, Parkin­son’s dis­ease, amy­otrophic lat­eral sclero­sis and deaths in­volv­ing chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy, or CTE.

Many of the more se­ri­ous — and more straight­for­ward — claims were set­tled in the first years of the pro­gram.

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