NFL Judge Says Concussion-Accord Data Must Be Made PublicJef Feeley and Sophia Pearson
The National Football League must give details on how its $765 million settlement of concussion claims came together by making public underlying economic analyses used to determine payouts, a judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia today approved the settlement data’s release following requests by former players and their families who are unhappy with the amount of the deal, along with media companies including Bloomberg News and ESPN.
Brody denied preliminary approval of the accord in January, citing concerns it didn’t provide enough money to cover concussion-related ailments suffered by about 20,000 retired NFL players. The judge approved a revised version of the settlement in July after the NFL removed a cap on monetary payments available under the deal and provided supplemental data to the court about the basis for the accord.
“It will be interesting to see how the NFL came up with the menu of the different payments available to players with different concussion-related illnesses,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s business and law schools who teaches classes about class-action settlements. “This will help the players decide if the settlement is really reasonable.”
More than 5,000 former football players have sued the league seeking damages for head injuries. In the complaints, consolidated before Brody in Philadelphia, the retirees accused the NFL of negligence and failing to inform players of the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries.
More than a dozen players or their families, including the family of Pro Bowl Linebacker Junior Seau, have objected to the settlement, saying it fails to address wrongful-death claims and provides no benefit for players suffering from early effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease.
Seau played for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots during his 19-year NFL career. He killed himself in 2012 at the age of 43. Seau’s family says his suicide is tied to the multiple concussions he suffered on the field.
“I don’t know that the information will provide any more clarity on how the compensation numbers were determined,” Steve Strauss, an attorney representing Seau’s family, said in a phone interview. “I didn’t consider this significant.”
Strauss said the Seau family is opting out of the settlement. Players have until Oct. 14 to decide whether to take part.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia is scheduled to hear arguments Sept. 10 in an appeal by seven players challenging Brody’s decision to grant the accord preliminary approval.
Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Brody’s ruling. Chris Seeger, a New York-based plaintiffs’ lawyer who helped negotiate the settlement with the league, also didn’t return a call for comment.
Under the revised deal, announced June 25, the NFL would pay at least $675 million in cash awards to retirees suffering from injuries including dementia. It agreed to absorb costs above that amount. Medical tests and educational programs would bring the total settlement amount to $765 million.
The revised agreement tightens restrictions for audits of payments and damage award appeals. It also includes language to prevent fraudulent claims.
The case is In re National Football Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation, 12-md-02323, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).