NFL, players reach new agreement on concussions

(USA Today) A revised settlement agreement was announced Wednesday pertaining to concussion-related lawsuits filed by more than 4,500 former players against the NFL. It will be subject to approval by a federal judge in Philadelphia, who rejected a tentative $765 million settlement reached last August, saying she was unsure it was sufficiently funded.

The NFL and attorneys for the players announced the new agreement will have no specific cap on the monetary fund that will provide awards to players eligible for compensation due to brain impairments.

The players' attorneys said in a court document that following the judge's initial rejection, "further analyses led to an uncapping of the deal."

They said that under the new settlement, the NFL must pay all valid claims for the next 65 years and that the Monetary Award Fund is no longer fixed at $675 million.

"While the Settling Parties remain undeterred in their belief that the … deal originally struck would have been sufficient to compensate all class members with valid claims … the settling parties have now guaranteed payment of all valid claims without any concern that the settling parties' projections might have been inaccurate due to some unpredictable or unforeseen events," said the court document.

The document went on to say: "In exchange for agreeing to uncap the deal, the NFL Parties required the inclusion … of additional measures designed to prevent fraudulent claims."

The new settlement ensures that money will be available for all retired players that develop a "compensable injury" as a result of head injuries suffered while playing, the sides said in a release.

"This agreement will give retired players and their families immediate help if they suffer from a qualifying neurocognitive illness, and provide peace of mind to those who fear they may develop a condition in the future," said co-lead plaintiffs' counsel Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said in the statement. "This settlement guarantees that these benefits will be there if needed, and does so without years of litigation that may have left many retired players without any recourse."

If a player is deceased, a family member may make a claim.

"While actuarial estimates from both parties supported the $765 million settlement that was announced in August, this new agreement will ensure funds are available to any eligible retired player who develops a compensable injury," said the joint statement.

NFL Senior Vice President Anastasia Danias issued this statement: "Today's agreement reaffirms the NFL's commitment to provide help to those retired players and their families who are in need, and to do so without the delay, expense and emotional cost associated with protracted litigation. We are eager to move forward with the process of court approval and implementation of the settlement."

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody and a special master assigned by the U.S. District for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania supervised the revised settlement negotiations. The court will still need to approve the settlement, and a final approval hearing should be held later this year, the sides announced.

The ex-players were involved in about 240 suits filed against the league since the summer of 2011. The suits had been consolidated in federal court in Philadelphia.

The suits alleged the NFL "deliberately ignored and actively concealed" information about concussions from players. That included information about long-term effects such as depression, dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to the suits.

After the tentative settlement, attorneys for the players filed a motion for preliminary approval of the agreement by Brody. The granting of that motion would be the next — but not final — step toward ultimate approval of the agreement. Even after preliminary approval by the judge, there would be a period in which former players were notified of the settlement. Then the court would hold hearings at which ex-players could raise any objections.

But Brody denied the motion for preliminary approval Jan. 14.

In her ruling, Brody said there wasn't enough analysis and information in the proposed settlement to assure her that it could provide enough money to pay the claims of all the players deemed eligible. The proposed settlement called for a $675 million of the $765 million fund to award money to players with a "qualifying diagnosis." She noted that there are about 20,000 living former NFL players and that the settlement would provide, for example, up to $3.5 million for a retired player with diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease and up to $5 million for one with a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"Even if only 10% of retired NFL football players eventually receiving a qualifying diagnosis, it is difficult to see how the Monetary Award Fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels," the judge wrote.

At the time of the judge's denial, attorneys for the players and the NFL said they were confident that additional information provided to the judge would demonstrate that the settlement was sufficiently funded.

At the time of the tentative settlement, both sides said resolution was preferable to a court battle that might have dragged out for more than a decade. Not all legal observers agreed because a settlement would mean inquiry into allegations in the suits that the NFL knew about dangers of concussions and long-term affects and covered them up.


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