Under official review: Court rejects NFL concussion settlement highlighting the importance of a fair deal

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Under official review: Court rejects NFL concussion settlement highlighting the importance of a fair deal

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has challenged the ruling on the field.  On January 14, 2014, the court denied preliminary approval of the widely debated $765 million proposed settlement for the National Football League’s alleged failure to inform and protect retired football players from the long-term risks of concussions and brain injuries.

Serious concerns were raised over the adequacy of the settlement amount following its announcement.  The league’s proposed settlement promised to provide: 

  • $675 million for former players with “Qualifying Diagnoses,” including neurocognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Lou Gehrig’s Disease;
  • $75 million for neurological and neuropsychological evaluations, as well as benefits such as counseling and pharmaceutical coverage;
  • $10 million for educational programs; and
  • $4 million in expenses to notify retirees of the settlement details.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), class-action settlement proposals must be approved by the court as fair, reasonable and adequate before they become binding.  If the settlement is unfair or otherwise deficient, the court must refuse to grant such approval.

In her memorandum, Judge Anita B. Brody noted the inflexible settlement amount, which the parties contended would adequately compensate more than 20,000 individuals for 65 years.  She observed how “even if only 10 percent of Retired NFL Football Players eventually receive 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.”  The earlier mediator found the agreement fair based on independent analyses and lawyers for the retired football players believed the proposed settlement was sufficient.  However, Judge Brody revealed that she never received any actual analysis or proof to support that conclusion.  Withholding the court’s approval, Judge Brody demanded that the parties share the documentation that they claim supports the adequacy of the settlement amount.

Despite lingering issues with the settlement amount, the deal is far from dead. It is clear that a proper settlement would greatly benefit both parties.

Class-action lawsuits are laden with complex problems, costs and time delays.  Many former NFL players with serious medical conditions are in desperate need of immediate assistance.  Undoubtedly, many could benefit from receiving treatment and compensation now, instead of years down the road after additional litigation.  Likewise, the lawsuit has developed into a seemingly never-ending financial burden and PR disaster for the NFL, which is presumably eager to bring this chapter of its history to a close.

In addition, a fair settlement would alleviate the risk to both parties of losing the case altogether.  The former athletes face the uphill battle of showing that their injuries were actually caused by NFL football, rather than collegiate sports, genetics or personal habits.  On the other hand, a loss for the NFL could lead to a judgment of damages in the billions of dollars.

If the price and terms are right, settling legal disputes out of court can be the most economical and expedient solution for all parties involved.  For now, Judge Brody has exercised legal safeguards to protect the athletes from an agreement that she has deemed unfair, unreasonable and inadequate.

The NFL concussion settlement debate is officially going into overtime.  Do you think the league will put extra points on the board for its injured alumni?

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