The National Football League agreed to pay $765 million to settle thousands of lawsuits over players concussions in a deal that provides individual awards and medical monitoring, according to court filings.
The settlement will compensate more than 5,000 ex-players for ailments stemming from head injuries and fund research into concussions, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia said today in court papers. The accord, which resulted from talks between the league and players, still needs court approval.
“This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players,” Jeffrey Pash, a league vice president, said in an e-mailed statement.
Maximum awards would include $5 million for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and $3 million for dementia, Christopher Seeger, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, said in a statement on the league’s website, nfl.com.
The settlement requires players to have completed five NFL seasons to receive full recoveries, a person familiar with the accord said. Players with fewer years can claim discounted recoveries, the person said, requesting anonymity because the information wasn’t public.
“It’s been a struggle to get to this point, but today I am very proud that the NFL has decided to stand up for all the former players that are suffering from brain injuries,” Kevin Turner, 44, a former running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, said at a press conference in Philadelphia. Turner suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Players accused the NFL in the suits of failing to warn them about the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries, including early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia. The cases were consolidated before Brody for pretrial exchanges of information.
“This agreement will get help quickly to the men who suffered neurological injuries,” Seeger, the players’ lawyer, said in an e-mailed statement. “It will do so faster and at far less cost, both financially and emotionally, than could have ever been accomplished by continuing to litigate.”
Former NFL athletes such as Miami Dolphins receiver Mark Duper and Phoenix Cardinals running back Lyvonia “Stump” Mitchell, alleged in their suits that league officials knew for more than 75 years that concussions posed long-term health risks and didn’t warn players, coaches or trainers.
It wasn’t until June 2010 that NFL officials warned that brain injuries from concussions, which result from brain movement within the skull after an impact, “may lead to problems with memory and communication, personality changes, as well as depression and the early onset of dementia,” according to the players’ court filings.
The settlement, if approved, will end the effort by former players to find out what the NFL knew, and when it knew it, about the links between neurological diseases and concussions.
Lawyers for the athletes said those ailments may have played a role in the suicide deaths of ex-Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson and former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau.
The families of players suffering from concussion-linked diseases who killed themselves can recover $4.5 million, the person familiar with the settlement said.
The NFL asked Brody to dismiss the cases, saying players knew the risks of a violent game such as football. The league also argued that because players perform under union contracts, federal labor law covered their claims. That law favors arbitration of employment-related claims, the attorneys said.
Brody ordered the league and players to meet with mediator Layn Phillips, a former federal judge, to see if they could settle the cases.
“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,” Phillips said in an e-mailed statement.
Among the payments will be $675 million to compensate injured players and their families, $75 million for medical exams and $10 million for research and education, according to the retirees’ committee. Attorneys’ fees will be paid in addition to the settlement amount.
The accord doesn’t include claims against Riddell Sports Group, a unit of the buyout firm Fenway Partners LLC, which makes helmets used in NFL games. It’s still involved in mediation talks.
The case is In re National Football Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation, 12-md-02323, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).
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