The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL, ex-players reach settlement over concussion lawsuits

The NFLcalendar may be changing. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

The NFL and more than 4,500 former players have reached a tentative $765-million settlement in concussion-related lawsuits that would fund medical exams and research as well as provide compensation for men who are suffering from the debilitating effects of concussions.

The proposed settlement, which comes one week before the NFL season opener, was announced through the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and is the result of mediation overseen by former District Court judge Layn Phillips. District Court Judge Anita B. Brody still must approve the settlement, which is the result of two months’ worth of talks between the parties.

“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 a release issued by the NFL. “Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed.”

The agreement is the surprisingly quick resolution of a case that involves former players and their families, who charged that the NFL concealed the long-term dangers of repeated hits to the head and concussions. The league countered that it had issued warnings based on available medical research at the time and that player safety is governed by the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

Among the high-profile former players whose names were attached to the lawsuit were Jim McMahon, Tony Dorsett, Clinton Portis, Mark Rypien and Art Monk. The family of Junior Seau, the former San Diego Chargers linebacker who committed suicide in May 2012, also had joined the suit. Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who filed the first lawsuit two years ago and was the lead plaintiff, committed suicide in April 2012.

“This is an extraordinary agreement that will provide immediate care and support to retired players and their families,” Christopher Seeger,  co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said (via the NFL). “This agreement will get help quickly to the men who suffered neurological injuries. It will do so faster and at far less cost, both financially and emotionally, than could have ever been accomplished by continuing to litigate.”

Roughly half of the settlement will be paid out over the first three years, with the balance paid over the following 17. As with any settlement, it “does not represent, and cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football,” the league’s release states. The settlement also means that the NFL will not be compelled to share internal documents that would indicate the scope of its knowledge about the dangers of concussion-related injuries. It does not, however, preclude future concussion-related lawsuits.

According to the settlement, $675 million would compensate former players and families of deceased players. Other money, capped at $75 million, would fund baseline medical exams. Research and education would be funded up to $10 million.

Individual awards would be capped at: $5 million for men with amyotrophic lateral scleroris, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive impairment; $4 million for former players whose chronic traumatic encephalopathy was discovered after their deaths; and $3 million for players with dementia.

“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, the NFL’s executive vice-president, said in a statement. “Commissioner [Roger] Goodell and every owner gave the legal team the same direction: do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it. We thought it was critical to get more help to players and families who deserve it rather than spend many years and millions of dollars on litigation.”

The settlement, of course, represents only a fraction of NFL revenues and it’s still less than the Forbes valuation of the NFL’s least-valuable team, the Oakland Raiders ($825 million). The average NFL team, according to SI’s Peter King, brings in $286 million annually.

But, more importantly for the NFL, it can open the season without the threat of a big tobacco-like lawsuit hanging over it and former players who need it can get assistance.

Kevin Turner, a 44-year-old former running back who is suffering from ALS, said in a conference call that the settlement was important because it would “lift a huge burden off men who are suffering” now.

Seeger, in a conference call with reporters, said he expects the families of men who have committed suicide to receiver “a seven-figure payout” and said the plaintiffs were happy with the settlement.

“We got what we wanted,” he said. “Let’s put it that way.”

Rypien estimated that he has had four concussions and told USA Today that he had been unable to afford neurological care.

“I couldn’t afford the opportunity to get in front of a neurosurgeon,” Rypien, 50, told USA Today. “We can’t afford that. I think it’s a great thing that we don’t have to drag this out through court and that guys get aftercare now.”

Reaction from current and former players on social media was mixed.

NFL concussion lawsuit net outcome? Big loss for the players now and the future! Estimated NFL revenue by 2025 = $27 BILLION

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.