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Appeals court upholds $1B concussion settlement

PHILADELPHIA — A federal appeals court has upheld an estimated $1 billion plan by the NFL to settle thousands of concussion lawsuits filed by former players, potentially ending a troubled chapter in league history.

The decision released Monday comes nearly a year after a district judge approved the revised settlement. If there are no further appeals — either to a full panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia within two weeks, or the Supreme Court within 90 days — former players already diagnosed with brain injuries linked to repeated concussions could begin receiving benefits within 3-4 months, a plaintiffs' attorney said.

"I couldn't stress enough the urgency of getting this done," said attorney Christopher Seeger. He conceded the settlement was hardly perfect, but two courts had now judged it fair.

Lawyer Steven F. Molo, who argued for several former players opposed to the deal, said his clients were disappointed and considering their options.

In a statement, an NFL spokesman called the appeals court decisions "a significant step in implementing the clubs' commitment to provide compensation to retired players who are experiencing cognitive or neurological issues."

The settlement would cover more than 20,000 NFL retirees for the next 65 years. The league estimates that 6,000 former players, or nearly three in 10, could develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia.

Fewer than 200 of those retirees opted out of the settlement, while 99 percent approved.

As part of the settlement, the NFL admitted no fault. A league official speaking to Congress recently acknowledged for the first time a definite link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in dozens of former players after their deaths. But the appeals court said that admission was not grounds to overturn the settlement.

"This settlement will provide significant and immediate relief to retired players living with the lasting scars of a NFL career ... We must hesitate before rejecting that bargain based on an unsupported hope that sending the parties back to the negotiating table would lead to a better deal," Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

The league has been dogged for years by complaints that it hid the risks of repeated concussions in order to return players to the field. The deal avoids the need for a trial and means the NFL may never have to disclose what it knew when about the risks and treatment of repeated concussions.