SBD/July 8, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Revised NFL Concussion Settlement Approved, Fairness Hearing Scheduled For Nov. 19

Former players can opt out of the settlement if they want to continue with lawsuits
U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody yesterday "approved a preliminary settlement between the NFL and lawyers for the more than 4,500 retired players who sued the league" over concussion-related issues, according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Brody's consent means that the "more than 20,000 retired players and their beneficiaries can now vote on the deal, which includes a promise from the NFL to pay an unlimited amount of awards to players with certain severe neurological conditions." Legal experts "expect it will be approved because the new settlement addressed the main concern" that Brody had with the original plan. That deal included $765M for "cash awards, medical testing and education." A revised settlement "removed the cap on damages." Belson notes the new settlement allows the NFL "to contest an unlimited number of requests for awards by retired players as a way to prevent fraudulent claims." Some players assert that this "will narrow the number of people who might ultimately receive cash awards." Once the retired players have "had a chance to respond to the settlement, the judge will hold a hearing, scheduled for Nov. 19 in Philadelphia, to determine whether the class of retirees has been fairly represented" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/8). USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces notes former NFLers will be "notified of terms of the settlement and their legal right to opt out if they would instead prefer to continue with lawsuits." If they do not opt out, they "will forfeit the right to pursue other similar suits against the NFL." After the notification period, Brody will "hold a hearing to determine whether the deal is 'fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests' of the former players." Brody will then "have the decision on whether to grant final approval and implement the court-supervised program" (USA TODAY, 7/8). FS1's Mike Garafolo said he found it "interesting" that Brody thought it was going to be "tough for the players to prove that the effects that they're experiencing were due to football and not just the aging process" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 7/7).

IN OR OUT? In Philadelphia, Jeremy Roebuck notes if the majority of players opt in, the deal "could spare the league years of protracted litigation over allegations that its executives hid or ignored evidence that concussions can cause brain damage with long-lasting health implications." Whether eliminating the cap will "be enough to convince dozens of players who have spoken out publicly against the settlement remains uncertain." Seven former players, including Sean Morey and Sean Considine, last week signaled in court filings that they "might opt out." However, lawyers Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, who represent many of the 4,500 retirees, yesterday "remained bullish" that most of the eligible players would buy in (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/8). ESPN's Andrew Brandt said, "There are going to be a lot of objectors to the settlement. They can opt out and sue on their own, but they're going to face challenges for doing so" ("NFL Insiders," ESPN, 7/7). Meanwhile, in L.A., Sam Farmer notes the only players who "would be eligible to receive money under the settlement are those who were retired when Brody gave her preliminary approval." So if a player "retired Tuesday or later he would not be eligible" (L.A. TIMES, 7/8). 

DEFENSIVE GAMEPLAN: In Hartford, Matthew Sturdevant reports Travelers Insurance on Thursday filed suit against the NFL in N.Y. Supreme Court to "fight a demand that it defend the league against a lawsuit filed by former players who said they were encouraged to take pain medication and keep playing, leading to more serious injuries." Travelers in the suit also said that it "is not required to pay any losses resulting from the lawsuit." In addition to the NFL, Travelers "lists as defendants 26 insurers that is says sold liability policies to the league." In May, a group of more than 500 retired football players "sued the NFL, alleging that they were given painkillers and told to keep playing while injured." Travelers in its lawsuit said that the NFL has "demanded that Travelers defend and indemnify the football league in the case" (HARTFORD COURANT, 7/8).
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