NFL Removes Cap on Damages in Bid to End Concussion Lawsuit

June 25, 2014
by Jason M. Breslow Digital Editor

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The NFL has agreed to remove a cap on any damages it will pay as part of a settlement with thousands of former players who have accused the league of concealing a link between brain injuries and professional football.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, comes nearly seven months after a U.S. District Court judge rejected an initial settlement of $765 million, saying she did not believe that the $675 million set aside for damages would cover every player who may need aid.

As with the original settlement, the NFL will not be forced to admit that it hid any information from players about the risks of concussions, but in an a concession to the roughly 5,000 plaintiffs in the case, the revised deal removes a provision that would have barred anyone who receives damages from the NFL from suing the NCAA “or any other collegiate, amateur or youth football organization.”

If approved by Judge Anita B. Brody, the revised settlement could end a long-running legal battle ignited by the discovery of the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of the late Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, the Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills lineman Joe DeLamielleure, as well as the relatives of deceased players like Webster and San Diego Chargers legend Junior Seau.

“Today’s agreement reaffirms the NFL’s commitment to provide help to those retired players and their families who are in need, and to do so without the delay, expense and emotional cost associated with protracted litigation,” NFL Senior Vice President Anastasia Danias said in a statement.

The new agreement leaves in place the requirements players must meet in order to qualify for a cash award from the league. The guidelines, which are based on the number of years a player was in the league and the age at which he developed a neurological disorder, allow for payments as high as $5 million for league veterans diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease; as much as $4 million for a death involving traumatic brain injury; and as much as $3 million for players suffering from dementia.

The settlement also leaves unchanged a commitment by the league to set aside up to $75 million for baseline medical exams for retired players, as well as $10 million for concussion research and education.

“This agreement will give retired players and their families immediate help if they suffer from a qualifying neurocognitive illness, and provide peace of mind to those who fear they may develop a condition in the future,” said Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, the co-lead plaintiffs’ counsel, in a statement. “This settlement guarantees that these benefits will be there if needed, and does so without years of litigation that have left many retired players without recourse.”

Assuming Brody grants preliminary approval to the revamped settlement, it will then be sent to the league’s roughly 18,000 retired players and their beneficiaries, who will have the option to approve the deal, object to it or opt out. That process is expected to take several months.

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