NFL’s Brain-Damage Deal Survives as Top Court Spurns Appeals

  • Payments to former players set to begin early next year
  • Appeal said compensation inadequate for future diagnoses

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand the National Football League’s $765 million concussion settlement, turning away contentions by former players that the accord won’t adequately compensate them for the brain damage they may have suffered.

The justices, without comment, left intact a federal appeals court ruling that the agreement, while imperfect, was a fair resolution of claims filed on behalf of more than 20,000 retired NFL players.

Monday’s rebuff clears the way for players and families to start receiving payouts early next year. More than 11,000 retired players have already registered to receive benefits, according to lawyers for the men who agreed to the settlement.

“This decision means that, finally, retired NFL players will receive much-needed care and support for the serious neurocognitive injuries they are facing," Christopher Seeger, one of the attorneys for the group, said in an e-mailed statement.

The accord includes money to cover conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

A group of former players, including Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley and onetime Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown, asked the Supreme Court to scuttle the settlement, saying it didn’t do enough for athletes whose brain injuries haven’t yet manifested themselves.

The settlement provides as much as $4 million each for players with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive neurological disorder caused by head trauma, but only if they died before the settlement got judicial approval in April 2015. CTE, as it is known, currently can be diagnosed only through an autopsy.

Dozens Diagnosed

“Under the settlement, the family of a player who dies with CTE before final approval gets up to $4 million,” the objecting players argued in court papers. “But an identically situated player who dies after final approval releases his claim and gets nothing -- for the exact same diagnosis.”

Among the dozens of former NFL players diagnosed with CTE have been linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself in 2012 at age 43, two years after his retirement from the New England Patriots; and Dave Duerson, a defensive back with the Chicago Bears and other teams who shot himself in 2011 at age 50, after years of suffering from cognitive and motor issues.

The NFL and the settling players urged the court to reject the appeal without a hearing. The league says retired players will be compensated if they have serious neurological impairments that may be connected to CTE.

The accord “provides real, substantial and immediate benefits to the more than 20,000 retired players who want and need those benefits now,” the NFL said.

The objecting players pointed to Supreme Court decisions in 1997 and 1999 invalidating settlements of class-action asbestos claims because those accords didn’t adequately protect the interests of the different types of people who might have claims.

The cases are Gilchrist v. National Football League, 16-283, and Armstrong v. National Football League, 16-413.

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