After two months of negotiations, the NFL has settled with more than 4,500 former NFL players in their joint lawsuit involving concussion-related injuries.
From the Associated Press:
BREAKING: US judge: NFL, players reach proposed $765M settlement of concussion-related lawsuits. -SS— The Associated Press (@AP) August 29, 2013
Updates from Tuesday, Jan. 14
Albert Breer of NFL.com has an update on the settlement between the NFL and its former players:
The Judge in US District Court overseeing the concussion case has DENIED preliminary approval of the settlement b/w players and the NFL.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 14, 2014
Judge Brody is basically asking for a special master to look at actuarial data, and make sure the economics are in order. Not a hard "no".— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 14, 2014
Updates from Friday, Sept. 20
According to a report from ESPN's Outside the Lines, there are concerns that are beginning to arise regarding the amount of compensation that was given in the settlement, and that the league is cutting many older players from the deal.
Per that report:
The proposed settlement disqualifies most players who died before 2006, even if they were diagnosed with football-related brain damage. That would shut out the relatives of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who died in 2002 and was later diagnosed with the first case of football-related brain damage. Webster's protracted battle with the NFL raised public awareness and helped ignite the NFL's concussion crisis.
A source familiar with the negotiations said the NFL sought to include only death claims that fell within the statute of limitations -- two years in most states. That would have cut out many players who died before 2009 and 2010. As part of the negotiations, representatives of the players fought to extend the provision back to 2006 to include more players in the settlement, although some players would still be excluded.
Although the NFL will pay for a separate fund to compensate attorneys, some lawyers will be paid directly by players receiving compensation for their injuries. That would contradict assurances that little or none of the settlement money would be used to cover legal fees and raises the possibility that some lawyers will receive multiple paydays.
Based on information from the NFL Players Association and researchers at Boston University, there already are more than 300 cases of former players who would qualify in the highest compensation categories. Payments for those cases alone raise questions about whether $675 million allocated to severely impaired players will be enough.
"It is a very valid concern," said Jason Luckasevic, a Pittsburgh attorney who filed the first concussion-related lawsuit against the NFL in 2011 and represents about 500 former players. "It would appear as though there are not enough funds for those that are injured."
Updates from Wednesday, Sept. 4
At a promotional event for Super Bowl XLIII, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell provided his thoughts in defense of the settlement. Per ESPN.com's Ian Begley:
We were able to find a common ground to be able to get the relief to the players and their families now rather than spending years litigating when those benefits wouldn't go to the players. So we're very supportive of it and we think it's the right thing to move forward and to try to do what we can to help our players and their families.
There has been a mixed reaction to the settlement, with some believing $765 million to be "a pittance...chump change" for the NFL. Goodell doesn't see it that way:
People start with making an assumption...first off, that we make $10 billion. That's $10 billion in revenue. And there's a difference between making (money) and revenue.
So this is a significant amount of money (and) the plaintiffs also believed it was an appropriate amount. The mediator felt it was an appropriate amount. It's a tremendous amount of money that we think is going to go to the right purpose, which is helping players and their families. So $765 million is a lot of money.
Updates from Sunday, Sept. 1
ESPN's Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada report initial monetary compensation the players were seeking from the NFL in the concussion lawsuit:
Once in mediation, the players demanded slightly more than $2 billion to settle the case, the source said. The NFL indicated that it was unwilling to offer more than a token settlement and said it was prepared to try the case.
One attorney who represents dozens of players but was not directly involved in the negotiations said he was told that the NFL had initially offered "peanuts" and that the proposed compensation was commensurate with a "dog-bite" case. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment Saturday.
---End of update---
Former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator in this case, made the following statement, via the press release:
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. 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 NFLPA released a brief statement on today's settlement (via Pro Football Talk): "All of the plaintiffs involved are part of our player community, and we look forward to learning more about the settlement."
Albert Breer of NFL.com broke down where the money would go:
Some of the breakdown: $75M for medical exams; $675M to compensate ex-players; $10M for research/education.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 29, 2013
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports further explained how the money would be divided:
All retired players - not just the litigants - are eligible to apply for compensation if they establish neuro damage to independent docs.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 29, 2013
So in short, this is not as simple as $765m divided by 4,500. That's not how the settlement works.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 29, 2013
The press release also went into further detail about the injury-compensation fund:
The fund of at least $675 million will be available to pay monetary awards to retired players who present medical evidence of severe cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or to their families. The precise amount of compensation will be based upon the specific diagnosis, as well as other factors including age, number of seasons played in the NFL, and other relevant medical conditions. These determinations will be made by independent doctors working with settlement administrators appointed by the District Court.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated passed along several key quotes from Judge Anita Brody—who is the presiding judge in federal court— regarding the case:
Judge Anita Brody: "From the outset of this litigation, I have expressed my belief that the interests of all parties would be best served...— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 29, 2013
Judge Brody2: " ... by a negotiated resolution of this case. The settlement holds the prospect of avoiding lengthy, expensive and ..."— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 29, 2013
Judge Brody3: "uncertain litigation, and of enhancing the game of football." end Brody quote.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 29, 2013
It should be noted that Judge Brody must still approve the settlement.
King also noted what the final total would be for the league:
Final bill for the league should be $950m-$1.05 billion, including legal fees.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 29, 2013
Needless to say, it's a hefty sum to pay, but one that pales in comparison to what the league would have to pay had it lost a protracted court battle with its former players. Such an extended case would have likely been a very public black eye for an organization that is well aware of public perception.
With this settlement, both parties can shift their focus to health and safety.
Another important takeaway from the press release was this question-and-answer with Phillips:
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.
This settlement seems like a positive outcome for the NFL, especially considering the league's efforts to try to distance itself from perceptions that the league did not take concussions seriously enough.
Had the plaintiffs continued with litigation and been able to prove the NFL "hid information" or that their injuries were directly caused by football activities, it would have been a serious issue, not just monetarily.
And if you don't think the NFL will be satisfied with the settlement, Erik Malinowski of BuzzFeed puts things into perspective:
ESPN pays $1.9 billion *every year* for Monday Night Football. 4,500 ex-players will get 40% of that (once) for decades of head trauma.— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) August 29, 2013
The hope is that with this settlement, the NFL won't do the bare minimum in trying to prevent concussions or head and neck injuries and will continue to seek more research for head trauma. This should be an impetus to continue to make the game safer, not the end to a thorn in the NFL's side that can now be ignored.
As for the retired players who weren't injured but looked at the lawsuit as a way to make some extra money? They won't be getting a dime, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk:
Retired players who aren’t injured but who saw the concussion lawsuits as a way to get some extra money will get nothing.
Technically, they’ll get a free baseline evaluation. And if they aren’t displaying cognitive difficulties now but develop problems later, they can try to get some of the $675 million fund. But anyone who saw the concussion lawsuits as a way to get a little extra severance pay from the NFL will end up disappointed — and rightfully so.
The league is making it known that they are taking steps to make the game safer at all levels, and that the funding detailed in the settlement will strive to make that a reality.
In the past, the NFL and its players did not have the same knowledge and medical awareness of concussions and their long-term impact that is available to those in the modern game.
This decision will hopefully help those former players who have suffered from head injuries and trauma, as well as their families. At the same time, the league and its current players will continue to strive for more player safety moving forward.