NFL concussion lawsuits go before a federal judge

Brian McIntyre

In a courtroom in Philadelphia this morning, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody will hear oral arguments regarding the NFL's motion to dismiss a complaint filed last summer by a committee of attorneys who represent over 4,100 former players who have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the National Football League in recent years.

Among the players who filed suit against the NFL is former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who is battling dementia, and former NFL fullback Kevin Turner, who is suffering from ALS, a condition he believes is related to his football career. The list of plaintiffs also include Hall of Fame players such as Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Randy White.

However, as Albert Breer of the NFL Network notes, nearly 500 of the plaintiffs never played a down of football in the NFL.

One of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the NFL, quarterback Pat White, withdrew his name from the case after signing a one-year, $480,000 contract with the Washington Redskins last week after spending the last three seasons out of football. Another player in the lawsuit, Patrick Chukwurah, spent several seasons out of football before signing with the Seattle Seahawks in January and playing in a divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons.

In their master complaint, the players allege the NFL was aware of the risks associated with concussions, but "deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information" from the players. The league's legal team, which is being led by former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement, will make procedural arguments claiming that these cases should be governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, not the legal system.

Washington attorney David Frederick is representing the players.

What could happen on Tuesday? Few expect Judge Brody to hand down a ruling anytime soon. It could take weeks, even months before she decides which course the lawsuits will take. When a ruling does come down, there are quite a few possibilities.

If she sides with the players, the case moves to the discovery phase and the NFL could be forced to share records with the players, have their key personnel sit for depositions or attempt to enter negotiations on an out of court settlement with the plaintiffs. It's also possible that Judge Brody could dismiss or split the group of plaintiffs, particularly those who did not play in the league during years where there was no collective bargaining agreement. If Judge Brody sides with the league, the proceedings could come to a halt.