Thursday, August 29, 2013

NFL concussion lawsuit settled


  • National Football League will pay $765 million to fund medical exams, research

  • Agreement between NFL and ex-players still needs to be approved by judge

  • Class-action lawsuit alleged the league didn’t do enough to warn player about brain damage risks

(CNN) — Thousands of former football players, and their families, have reached a settlement with the National Football League in a lawsuit that put concussions, and their impact on the brain, on trial.

The deal, which is still pending approval by a U.S. district judge, would provide $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research for retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses.

“The benefits in this agreement will make a difference not only for me and my family, but also for thousands of my football brothers who either need help today or may need help someday in the future,” said Kevin Turner, a former running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots in a statement.

“I am grateful that the NFL is making a commitment to the men who made the game what it is today.”

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At the heart of the lawsuit was an allegation by plaintiffs that the NFL led a deliberate misinformation campaign — primarily through its Mild Traumautic Brain Injury committee — to deny the scientific data gathering in the medical community about concussion risks.

That alleged misinformation, which included studies by the MTBI committee suggesting no correlation existed between concussions and long term brain damage, trickled down to players, according to the lawsuit, so that they did not not realize the true risks they were taking while playing.

The NFL is not commenting about today’s settlement, but has in the past responded to allegations about misinformation. A league spokesman said that “Any allegation that the league sought to mislead players has no merit. … and stands in contrast to actions it took to better protect players.”

Family members of former players, some of whom are currently suffering from neurodegenerative illnesses, were stunned to find out that the lawsuit had been settled so quickly.

“I had two thoughts. First, I’m glad that the league will finally take responsibility,” said Tia McNeil, the ex-wife of former Minnesota Viking linebacker, Fred McNeil, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who suffers with symptoms of early dementia. “The other thing I was thinking is that [the NFL] didn’t want to go into the discovery phase of the case.”

Without a trial, without a discovery phase to reveal evidence, there is no way to discern what the league knew — or did not know — about concussion risks, and whether in the face of scientific knowledge, it should have established safer practices for players sooner than it did.

In recent years, the NFL has attempted to strengthen rules that govern player conduct on the field, and added sideline medical staff — unaffiliated with the teams — in an effort to more independently evaluate injured players.

But many have ventured that these rule changes could have been implemented years ago.

McNeil says that her decision to join the suit on behalf of her ex-husband was less about compensation and more about the NFL acknowledging the potential risks of repetitive traumatic brain injury.

What is most important, said Jamal Anderson, a former player and plaintiff in the lawsuit, during an interview on CNN, “is to bring attention to the plight of thousands of players and the importance of taking concussion and head trauma seriously.”

Anderson, who played for the Atlanta Falcons in the 1990s, acknowledged that by settling, the league was not accepting responsibility for allegations contained in the lawsuit. “At least they put the proper foot forward to say, ‘Hey, these players, the guys who played the game before the current players actually matter.”

The settlement includes a $675 million fund set up to compensate players who have suffered brain injury, or their families; a maximum of $75 million for medical exams; and $10 million devoted to research and education. The rest of the settlement would be devoted to legal fees and the cost of administering funds to plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, the impact of the settlement may never fully register for former players like Fred McNeil, who is in the throes of early dementia.

McNeil, who has not yet shared the news of the lawsuit with Fred, says she can predict his reaction.

“I think he will pay attention for a minute, say ‘Oh wow,’ and then not really think about it until someone brings it up again,” she said. “It’s not something he’ll remember tomorrow.”

A tale of two former NFL players — and their brains

CNN’s Dan Moriarty contributed to this report.


NFL concussion lawsuit settled

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