Friday, August 30, 2013

NFL settles concussion suit for $765 million

The National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families, largely closing the legal front in the league’s battle against accusations that it concealed what it knew about the dangers of repeated hits to the head.

The settlement, announced Thursday, will be seen as a victory for the league, which has nearly $10 billion in annual revenue and faced the possibility of billions of dollars in liability payments and a discovery phase that could have proved damaging if the case had moved forward.

The league has changed its rules to make the game safer and modified its medical protocols for concussions as mounting scientific evidence in recent years linked head trauma sustained on the field to long-term cognitive damage. Among the terms of the agreement is that the settlement is not to be regarded as an admission of guilt by the league.

“The settlement seems low considering the number of claimants and the severity of their conditions, but it also shows the uphill climb in proving the league was responsible for the players’ injuries,” said Michael LeRoy, who teaches labor law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The league is keenly sensitive to its public image. It changes the conversation and really lets the air out of the publicity balloon.”

The case was widely considered a possible reckoning for the N.F.L., which has been criticized in recent years after dozens of former players were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused only by repeated head trauma. While the settlement closes a legal case for the league, brain trauma among current and former players may continue to vex a sport that embraces violent collisions.

The money would be used for medical exams, concussion-related compensation and a program of medical research for retired players and their families. The money, which may not be distributed for many months, will be available to all retired players with neurological problems, not just the plaintiffs. The N.F.L. also agreed to pay legal fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers, a sum that could reach tens of millions of dollars.

The pool of beneficiaries could be smaller or larger than the number of plaintiffs in the case, depending on how many retired players with neurological problems come forward. The settlement does not cover current players.

“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,” Layn Phillips, the mediator, said in a statement.

C.T.E. was found in the brain of the former Eagles defensive back Andre Waters after his suicide in 2006. Since then, the disease has been found in nearly every former player whose brain was examined. (C.T.E. can be diagnosed only posthumously.) Most notably, the former N.F.L. linebacker Junior Seau was found to have the disease after he committed suicide last year, and in 2011, Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears player, shot himself in the chest, saying in a note that he wanted his brain donated for research. Doctors determined that Duerson had C.T.E.

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