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NFL Reaches Surprising Settlement in Concussion Class-Action Case

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by Publius
Posted August 30, 2013, 8:55 AM

The Wall Street Journal reports:

After years of damaging publicity, the National Football League reached a surprise settlement with a group of 4,500 former players who sued it over concussion-related issues.

The settlement represents a major victory for the NFL. Just a week before the 2013 season, the league has largely removed an issue that has dogged it for years and led some to suggest the sport should be banned.

The agreement, reached at 2 a.m. Thursday Eastern time after nine weeks of intense mediation, came far earlier than most expected. It calls for the NFL to pay $765 million, mostly for medical benefits and injury compensation for the retired players, in addition to funding medical research and covering legal expenses.

The settlement includes all retired NFL players who present medical evidence of severe cognitive impairment, not just those who joined the suit.

The NFL admitted no wrongdoing or liability in the agreement, which must be approved by Anita Brody, the federal judge in Philadelphia overseeing the case. She is likely to approve the agreement, said a person familiar with the matter.

The plaintiffs don't have to approve the settlement, but anyone can opt out, a league spokesman said.

Layn Phillips, a former U.S. District judge who mediated the settlement, said in a statement that it would "provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed," while avoiding a long legal process.

"This settlement is a very important step for ensuring that future generations of football players do not suffer the same way that many in my generation have," said Kevin Turner, an NFL running back in the 1990s and a lead plaintiff who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The settlement will cost each of the NFL's 32 franchises $24 million over 20 years, or roughly $1.2 million a year. Projected league revenues this season are $10 billion, and the NFL finalized a series of media-rights deals last year that guarantee more than $40 billion through 2022.

The agreement doesn't prevent future players from making claims or suing the NFL for injuries incurred while playing. But because all current players are party to the current collective-bargaining agreement between the NFL's owners and the league's players' union, those claims would be handled through the arbitration process outlined in the labor deal.

NFL Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash, who spearheaded the case for the league, called the deal "an important step that builds on the significant changes we've made in recent years to make the game safer, and we will continue our work to better the long-term health and well-being of NFL players."

The lead plaintiffs' attorney, Christopher Seeger, said the settlement is an opportunity for the most severely affected players to get medical coverage quickly and covers retired NFL players for the next 60 years. Former players who suffer from ALS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other neurological conditions will receive "substantial benefits," some as high as $5 million, he said.

Mr. Seeger said the deal will "get help quickly to the men who suffered neurological injuries. It will do so faster and at far less cost, both financially and emotionally, than could have ever been accomplished by continuing to litigate."

Legal experts familiar with the case say the plaintiffs' attorneys didn't believe they had enough firepower to win in court. NFL lawyers were prepared to probe each plaintiff about his athletic history to try to convince the court the NFL couldn't be held liable for injuries that could have come from youth, high-school or college football—or substance abuse.

John Goldman, a litigator with Herrick, Feinstein LLP, who was following the case, said the plaintiffs had "tough legal hurdles," given the inability of players to prove what caused their injuries. . . .

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