The NFL has protected its shield -- and its path to prime time -- in a historic settlement. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
In what seems like a major victory for the league, the NFL and over 4,000 retired players have agreed to settle all pending lawsuits in a massive stretch of litigation related to allegations that the NFL did not properly warn former players of the dangers of concussions despite prior knowledge of those dangers, and did not do all it could to help those men whose lives had been negatively affected by those injuries. The settlement comes after more than two months of intense negotiations under the supervision of former United States District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator in this case.
The settlement will be submitted for approval to United States District Judge Anita B. Brody, who has been presiding over the cases in Philadelphia. If it is approved, the NFL and NFL properties will pay a total of $765 million for injury settlements and medical benefits for retired players, to fund medical and safety research and to pay all litigation expenses.
“This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football,” Judge Phillips said in a statement released Thursday morning by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Center. “Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed. I am deeply grateful to Judge Brody for appointing me as mediator and offering me the opportunity to work on such an important and interesting matter.”
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Judge Brody is expected to hear any appeals and potentially approve the settlement within a few weeks.
“Approval of the settlement will require Judge Brody to determine that it is fair, reasonable and adequate in light of the claims and defenses, and the expense, uncertainty and time inherent in litigating the claims, particularly given the benefits provided by the agreement,” Judge Phillips said. “There is no question that this settlement will provide benefits much sooner, and at much less cost, for many more retirees, than would have been achieved through extended litigation. For these and other reasons, I will strongly endorse this settlement in my report to Judge Brody.”
It is a class settlement, with no admission of liability from the NFL or NFL Properties, tacit or otherwise. The league would pay half the settlement amount over the next three years, and the second half over the following 17 years. Inherent in the settlement is the seeming difficulty for other potential plaintiffs to file new claims down the road.
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"For a variety of reasons, the underlying theory of this lawsuit about what took place in the past would be difficult to replicate in the future," the statement said.
The $765 million is estimated to be distributed as follows:
- A capped amount of $75 million for baseline medical exams
- A $675 million fund to compensate ex-players or the families of ex-players who have suffered cognitive injuries
- A $10 million research and education fund
- A capped $4 million fund for the costs of giving notice to all the members of the class
- $2 million to compensate the Settlement Administrator for the next 20 years.
According to TheMMQB.com Editor-In-Chief Peter King, legal fees will be paid separately, so the final bill for the NFL could exceed $1 billion.
"Retired players will have the opportunity to participate in baseline medical exams," the statement says, explaining the baseline process. Players with demonstrated cognitive injury, now or in the future, will be able to obtain a monetary award. The decisions regarding who qualifies and the amount of the award will be made by independent doctors and fund administrators agreed upon by the parties, and the federal court in Philadelphia will retain ultimate oversight."
A great many questions remain to be answered, but it would seem in the abstract that both parties agreed to settle for the sake of expediency. A series of cases could have been a far larger financial nightmare. The NFL grosses approximately $9-10 billion per year, and could double that based on new television deals by the end of the decade.
“This is an extraordinary agreement that will provide immediate care and support to retired players and their families,” lead plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP said in the statement. “This agreement 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.”