NFL Reaches $765 Million Settlement In Concussion Lawsuit

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Under siege over its handling of concussions, the NFL has agreed to a $765 million settlement with more than 4,500 retired players who have accused the league of concealing a link between traumatic brain injury and professional football.

The proposed agreement would pay the plaintiffs in the case — which includes at least 10 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — an average of $150,000 in medical benefits and injury compensation. The league would also fund medical research on brain injury, as well as legal fees for players.

If approved by U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, the settlement will short circuit a legal battle that could have exposed the NFL to billions in liability costs. The agreement also avoids a potentially embarrassing discovery phase that was likely to draw new attention to the medical histories of former players from as far back as the 1940s.

The case also could have unearthed new details on the work of the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which as FRONTLINE has reported, was once led by a rheumatologist with no previous expertise in brain research. The committee not only denied a link between football and brain injury, according to the players, it also waged aggressive attacks against mounting medical research showing that repetitive hits to the head lead to conditions such as depression and dementia.

The settlement means the NFL will not have to answer questions under oath about how it has handled brain injuries among players. But as the case’s court-appointed mediator emphasized, the deal does not represent an admission of guilt by the league.

The agreement “doesn’t mean that the NFL hid information or did what the plaintiffs claimed in their complaint,” wrote the mediator, former U.S. District Court Judge Layn Phillips. Nor does it mean “that the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football or that the plaintiffs would have been able to prove that their injuries were caused by football.”

At the same time, Phillips noted, the agreement should not signal “that the plaintiffs wouldn’t have been able to prove their case.”

Under the agreement, the NFL will establish a $675 million injury compensation fund for retired players who present medical evidence of “severe cognitive impairment,” dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The league will also pay for up to $75 million of baseline medical examinations for eligible retired players. The exams “will be used to establish a qualifying diagnosis, either now or at a point in the future.” The proposed settlement also calls for a $10 million research and education fund established by the NFL.

Until the sudden announcement, the NFL had been petitioning the court to dismiss the case. In July, both sides were ordered into mediation.

“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,” said NFL Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash.

Kevin Turner, a former NFL running back now battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease said “the benefits in this agreement will make a difference not only for me and my family, but also for thousands of my football brothers who either need help today or may need help someday in the future.”

Outside of court in April, Turner told reporters that “there’s a lot of us that don’t have 10 years to find out what the decision is.”

In this Nov. 8, 2009 file photo, a member of the Washington Redskins training staff, top, attends to running back Clinton Portis after he received a concussion in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)
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