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Federal judge OKs preliminary NFL settlement

The NFL is one step closer to closing the books on a landmark concussion lawsuit.

On Monday in Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody granted preliminary approval of a settlement that would compensate thousands of retired players suffering the long-term effects of head injuries. The agreement figures to cost the NFL several hundred million dollars; there is no specific limit on how much the league might be required to pay eligible retirees.

Brody had rejected the original proposal in January because the sides had not provided enough evidence that a limit of $675 million in compensatory damages would be sufficient to cover all the injured parties during the 65-year life of the deal. There are more than 5,000 plaintiffs, and the settlement would cover more than 20,000 retirees.

A revised proposal was submitted two weeks ago, and Brody's approval was widely expected.

“A class action settlement that offers prompt relief is superior to the likely alternative — years of expensive, difficult and uncertain litigation, with no assurance of recovery, while retired players' physical and mental conditions continue to deteriorate,” Brody wrote.

Retired players will receive packets in the coming weeks that explain the terms of the settlement. They have the ability to opt out of the agreement, making them ineligible to receive money from this agreement but preserving their right to sue the league on their own.

If they do not opt out, players will be deemed in favor of the deal and thereby give up any right to sue the league over head injuries.

A fairness hearing on the final settlement is set for Nov. 19.

Legal experts say players who opt out of the settlement would face a difficult fight to recover any damages from the league on their own.

“One thing we know by the nature of this litigation is it will take a substantial number of years and substantial expense to do it,” said Stanford law professor William B. Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. “It's unlikely that the NFL is going to enter into new comprehensive settlements.”

Only players who were retired when Brody gave her preliminary approval would be eligible to receive money under the settlement.

In a written statement, Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, co-lead counsels for the plaintiffs, called the agreement “an extraordinary settlement for retired NFL players and their families — from those who suffer with neurocognitive illnesses today, to those who are currently healthy but fear they may develop symptoms.”

The NFL got some concessions for lifting the spending cap. The league can contest an unlimited number of claims or monetary awards. Under the previous proposal, challenges were limited to 10 per year.

The original settlement was to cost the league about $870 million, including $112 million for the plaintiffs' lawyers and $90 million for baseline physical exams, concussion research and education.

The proposed new settlement features payouts of as much as $5 million for players suffering from ALS; as much as $4 million to the families of brain-damaged athletes who committed suicide; up to $3 million for cases of dementia; and lesser amounts for other ailments. Players with milder forms of dementia may receive treatment but not payouts.

Former players would not need to demonstrate their injuries were caused by football to receive compensation.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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