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NFL, players reach whopping $765M settlement in concussion case

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

A judge has accepted a settlement in which the NFL will pay former players $765 million over the issue of concussions.

Nearly 4,500 former players were suing the league for the damage they say incurred because of head trauma in the game during their professional careers.

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U.S. district judge Anita Brody announced the settlement, which still must be approved later, Thursday in Philadelphia. She originally had planned to rule on the case in July but instead ordered the two sides into ordered mediation, which delivered this result.

“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,” mediation judge Layn Phillips said in a statement. “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.”

The plaintiffs include Hall of Famers such as Tony Dorsett and the family of deceased Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year and whose brain revealed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after a lengthy football career.

The settlement applies to all retired players, whether or not they have been a part of the suit or not.

According to the agreement, the terms of the settlement break down the money as such: baseline medical exams, which will be capped at $75 million; a separate fund of $675 million to compensate former players who have suffered cognitive injury or their families; a separate research and education fund of $10 million; the costs of notice to the members of the class, which will not exceed $4 million; $2 million, representing half of the compensation of the Settlement Administrator for a period of 20 years; and legal fees and litigation expenses to the plaintiffs’ counsel, which amounts will be set by the District Court.

The payments from the NFL will come incrementally, with half the settlement paid over the next three years, and the remaining half paid out over the following 17 years. SI.com's Peter King reported that legal fees will be paid out separately, so that could raise the total cost to nearly $1 billion.

The early takes: The monetary total appears startling on the surface, and it makes you wonder how much more it might have been had this gone to trial. But it's not the bank-breaking sum some legal analysts predicted, and it certainly is not a figure that will bankrupt the NFL, which has been awash in profits for years, bringing in somewhere on the order of $10 billion per year.

The NFL gladly will pay the price, steep as it is, not only to save money in the long run with countless billable hours liable to have been tacked on, but also to avoid a prolonged, ugly trial that also would serve as a P.R. nightmare for Roger Goodell and the league.

But the biggest shield for The Shield might be the fact that, on the terms of the settlement, they reportedly do not have to admit any culpability for their sport being any reason for the cause of players' head trauma.

A Q&A with Judge Phillips, distributed along with the news of the settlement, almost appears to have been co-written by the NFL:

Is this an acknowledgement by the NFL that it hid information on long-term effects?

No. An agreement doesn’t imply anything about either side’s position. It doesn’t mean that the NFL hid information or did what the plaintiffs claimed in their complaint. It does not mean that the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football or that the plaintiffs would have been able to prove that their injuries were caused by football. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that the plaintiffs wouldn’t have been able to prove their case. The settlement means that the parties reached an agreement to put litigation behind them, get help to retired players who need it, and work proactively to support research and make the game safer. These are goals everyone can share.

One can look at this two ways. One, the NFL paid a steep price to settle this thing. But you also could say they got off somewhat easily, too, without having to admit that the violent collisions of the game were the reason that former players are suffering from post-concussion health problems.

Seems a bit crazy, right? Especially when you do the math and figure out that the average settlement per plaintiff comes out somewhere in the neighborhood of $170,000 and the current rough cost per team $24 million.

Still, the players appear to be happy with the result, which was at least a short-term victory. Just as the NFL likely wanted a quick settlement out of court, the players also knew they had to assist their constituents as quickly as possible, with some of them in advanced stages of medical concerns and in need of financial assistance.

“This is an extraordinary agreement that will provide immediate care and support to retired players and their families,” said lead plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP. “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.”

The NFL for years has denied that their game has caused concussion problems. Now, they have a settlement that backs up that claim.

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