February 02, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) The judge presiding over thousands of NFL concussion lawsuits wants lawyers to tweak the proposed settlement to benefit more retired players.

Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody in Philadelphia has been nudging both sides toward a plan that could pay out $1 billion over 65 years.

Brody granted preliminary approval last year after the NFL agreed to lift a $765 million funding cap. On Monday, she asked for further revisions that would let more retirees, or the families of deceased players, claim awards or seek neurological testing.

Both sides remained confident the plan was moving toward settlement.

''We ... continue to have a high degree of confidence that this settlement - which has been accepted by more than 99 percent of retirees - will receive final approval and provide important and generous benefits to retirees and their families,'' NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The NFL expects 6,000 of nearly 20,000 retired players to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia someday. The settlement would pay them about $190,000 on average, given that most would be diagnosed in their later years.

The awards could reach $1 million to $5 million for those diagnosed in their 30s and 40s with Parkinson's disease or Lou Gehrig's disease, or for deaths involving the brain trauma CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Brody, in the interest of fairness, suggested Monday that the agreement cover more recent deaths that involved CTE. The proposed July 7, 2014, cutoff would be extended until the date of final approval.

She also asked that players get at least some credit in their award calculation for time spent with NFL Europe and other NFL affiliates.

''We are grateful to Judge Brody for her guidance and continued efforts to protect the rights of all class members,'' co-lead players' lawyer Christopher Seeger said. ''We look forward to finalizing this agreement so that retired players can begin taking advantage of its benefits.''

The judge also asked that the $75 million allotted for baseline testing be expanded if necessary to cover everyone who takes part in the settlement.

The lawsuits accuse the NFL of long hiding what it knew about concussions and brain injuries to keep players on the field. Only a few hundred retirees or family members have decided to opt out and pursue individual suits.

Some critics feel the fund lets the NFL off lightly, given the league's $10 billion in annual revenues. At hearings before Brody held last fall, some researchers and family members complained that there are no awards for depression, mood swings and other problems they link to football concussions. Brody did not raise those issues in Monday's order.

Other critics fault the plan for excluding future payments for CTE, which some call the signature disease of football. Currently, it can only be diagnosed after death. Negotiators have said they did not want to ''incentivize'' future suicides.

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