NFL Settlement of Concussion Case Helps Former Players, Not Current and Future Pros
The sum of $765 million is a lot of money.
That’s the amount that the National Football League has agreed to pay to settle a lawsuit that was brought by more than 4,000 retired professional players who have been diagnosed with advanced dementia and other neurological problems. The lawsuit also includes some families of players who died from long-term effects of head trauma caused through playing football. As we’ve noted on HealthCentral’s site, there have been studies that have found that Alzheimer’s disease and other similar brain diseases appear to have been diagnosed at a much higher level in retired pro football players than in the U.S. population.
The Wall Street Journal calls the agreement a “surprise” and states that the league will pay that sum for medical benefits and injury compensation for all retired players who present medical evidence that they have severe cognitive impairment. This part is interesting since this move covers all former professional football players instead of only those who brought the lawsuit. The settlement requires retired players who are seeking these benefits to have baseline medical testing. If the former player’s condition deteriorates, he can then apply for a supplemental payment. The district court will appoint independent doctors who will evaluate individual medical cases. The settlement includes $75 million to pay for the baseline medical exams and $675 million for compensation.
In addition, the settlement includes $10 million for medical research and education, as well as payment of litigation expenses, which will be determined by the district court. The NFL will pay 50 percent of the total settlement during the next three years and the balance over the following 17 years. However, the deal does not mean that the league acknowledges having liability for the head injuries.
"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," said mediator Layn Phillips, a former U.S. District judge, who announced the settlement. The settlement now must be approved by a federal judge.
So was this a win for the retired football players? On a column on CBS Sports, Will Brinson suggests that the NFL actually came out a lot better with this deal than what was expected. “The price to get rid of the lawsuit is an absolute basement bargain, relatively speaking,” he stated. “There’s no way that you can ever call three-quarters for a billion…a bargain at least in a vacuum. But compared to the 9.5 billion the NFL generated in revenue in 2012? Anything involving the letter ‘m’ in front of ‘illion’ is an absolute steal for the league….”
Brinson says that this settlement means that the business of football is safe, instead of withering away due to lawsuits brought on by players who had suffered brain injuries. He notes that the settlement gets rid of the disastrous scenario of losing a massive class-action lawsuit. He also points out that the league’s biggest victor is wording in the settlement that hinders current and future players from suing the league and also absolves the NFL from any admission of liability or weakness of claims.
I am happy for the many former players and their families who will rightfully benefit from this settlement. However, I have a problem with the league getting off Scott-free from any admission of liability. That’s scary.
And while the powers-that-be at all levels of football – from Pop Warner to the NCAA to the NFL -- make some changes in rules, tackling and equipment, I think the current gridiron gladiators and those coming up through the ranks should be counseled to buy a long-term care policy and to sock a significant portion of their earnings away. They will need both of these for the rainy day coming in a future not too far removed from end of their playing days when their cognitive health starts to crumble due to the pounding they took in the sport.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Brinson, W. (2013). NFL concussion settlement wins big by protecting future of football. CBSSports.com.
Clark, K. (2013). NFL, players reach $765 million concussion settlement. Wall Street Journal.