NFL Wisely Settles Concussion Suit for $765 Million

nfl-logoBy Patrick White

With the kickoff to the new NFL season quickly approaching and the popularity of professional football at an all-time high, the NFL took a decisive step today in protecting its public image when the league and more than 4,500 former players came to a $765 million settlement in the former players’ concussion lawsuit. The players had accused the league of “intentional tortious misconduct, including fraud, intentional misrepresentation, and negligence,” contending the league was aware of risks associated with concussions, “but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information.”  After hearing oral arguments on April 9, 2013, Judge Anita Brody delayed a scheduled July ruling and ordered both sides to meet in order to determine which plaintiffs had the right to sue. While the lawyers were scheduled to report back to court next Tuesday, Judge Brody announced Thursday that the sides had reached an agreement.

Under the pending settlement, the NFL is to pay out $765 million – approximately 50% of that amount over 3 years, and the balance over the next 17 years. Of the $765 million total, $675 million is to be used to compensate former players and the families or representatives of deceased players who have suffered cognitive injury. The remainder of the settlement fund will be used for concussion research and education, as well as baseline medical exams and the promotion of safety in today’s game. While the plaintiffs in the lawsuit numbered almost 4,500, the settlement will include all players (or authorized representatives if a player is deceased) who have retired as of the date on which the court gives approval of the settlement. This means that the number of eligible former players under this settlement could reach as many as 18,000. Individual compensation for these eligible players will be determined based on diagnosis by independent doctors and would be capped at $5 million for players with Alzheimer’s disease, $4 million for players diagnosed posthumously with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and $3 million for players diagnosed with dementia.

With the NFL’s growing popularity, the last thing the league needed was a hit to its image. In recent years, Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear that it is his mission to make the game safer for the players, specifically with respect to concussions. In order to do so, the league had implemented a number of policies and procedures. These safety guidelines addressed rule changes, fines, medical supervision, and public awareness. The adjustments the NFL had made to the game were all under the pretext of protecting players’ health and wellbeing. However, with the NFL fighting a lawsuit against former players who were dealing with lasting effects from the same concussions that the NFL was now trying to prevent, Commissioner Goodell appeared to be disingenuous. With this settlement, the NFL may regain some credibility when it comes to concussion related rules and regulations.

Although the NFL is finally doing right by its former players financially, the settlement is also very beneficial to the league. The most noteworthy term of the settlement from a public relations perspective is that the agreement “cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiff’s injuries were caused by football.” By reaching this agreement with the players, the NFL is publicly avoiding all responsibility for its former players’ injuries, while seeming to support the players who helped the league grow into the popular financial juggernaut it is today. In connection with news of the settlement, NFL executive vice president Jeffrey Pash released a statement:

This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players. Commissioner Goodell and every owner gave the legal team the same direction: do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it…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. This is 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 former players’ concussion lawsuit had become a public relations nightmare for a league that was purporting to make player safety its main objective. While Judge Anita Brody must still approve the settlement, the announcement of this agreement a week before the new season starts eliminates a media headache the NFL had been dealing with for the past three seasons. This settlement is the best result for all parties involved. The men who sacrificed their bodies and minds for the business of professional football get the financial compensation they deserve, and the NFL can now focus on promoting its new season while taking advantage of this settlement to enhance its already thriving public image.

PatrickWhitePatrick White is a 2013 graduate of Quinnipiac University School of Law and a 2007 graduate of Fordham University.  While at Quinnipiac, Patrick excelled as a member of the Mock Trial Society, finishing first in the TYLA New England Regional Mock Trial Competition, having been recognized as the best overall advocate.  He was also an active member of the Society for Dispute Resolution where his team received honors for Best Negotiating Team.  He is a candidate for admission to the July 2013 Connecticut Bar and currently resides in New Haven, Conn.

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