Details of the proposed $765 million settlement to end the NFL concussion litigation will be filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia in the next 10 days, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Sol Weiss, the co-lead counsel, defended the agreement reached last week in an interview Thursday with The Washington Times.
“There’s always going to be concern,” Weiss said. “But I think when everybody understands the deal, I don’t think there should be any real objectors hanging around because they’re going to be hurting their own colleagues.”
Broad outlines of the plan had been unveiled last week in a six-page press release from the Newport Beach, Calif., mediation firm that helped broker the settlement and comments from Christopher Seeger, another attorney for over 4,600 retired NFL players who sued.
But one theme has emerged among former players, whether they support or oppose the deal that will cover the estimated 15,000 to 18,000 living retired players: they don’t know how it’s going to work. Weiss provided more specifics on the mechanics of the settlement than have previously been made public.
— A grid based on age, experience and cognitive impairment will help to determine how much players receive from the $675 million compensation fund. Half of that will be paid in the first three years; future awards will be adjusted for inflation.
A player is eligible for the full award — Lou Gehrig’s disease, for example, is capped at $5 million — if he spent five seasons in the NFL. Four seasons get 80 percent, three seasons 60 percent, two seasons 20 percent and anyone else 10 percent.
There’s also a mechanism to compensate families of deceased players, including those who killed themselves, diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Alzheimer’s. In the event a living or deceased player was diagnosed with more than one covered disease, the player or family would receive the higher of the two payments that will be adjusted depending on the date of death.
— The older a player is when diagnosed with diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, the less compensation he’ll receive given the increased prevalence of the diseases as people age. Top-end payments will go to players diagnosed at age 45 or younger. If a qualified player was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at, say, 40 years old and died at age 60, he’ll still receive the top payout for the illness of $3.5 million based on when he was diagnosed, not when he died.
— Weiss is adamant the compensation fund is sufficient to cover all eligible retired players and families. The numbers are sprawling, including 34 cases of CTE diagnosed by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and seven players living with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We believe the amount of money in the cash awards will last 65 years,” Weiss said, adding that economists and actuaries evaluated the fund.
The model has estimated the number of former players and families who will be compensated. Weiss declined to reveal the figure until the proposed settlement is filed.
— The plaintiffs will ask the court to allow Richmond-based BrownGreen PLC to administer the settlement, something the firm has done for the BP oil spill and Vioxx case. The Garretson Resolution Group will handle the 10-year, $75 million baseline testing program.
— To participate in the program, players don’t need to prove their injuries occurred in the NFL or as a result of football. That’s a key distinction that could’ve been a significant defense for the NFL had the case gone to trial.
“It’s a significant problem for an individual case to prove you didn’t get their neurological deficit playing in college or high school,” Weiss said. “That’s not an easy task for a lot of players.”
— Outside of funding, Weiss wants to be clear that the NFL isn’t involved in the program, a particularly important detail for former players worried the baseline testing will resemble the much-maligned NFL disability board.
“This is not an NFL program. They have nothing to do with this,” Weiss said. “They’re not going to be involved with the administration of the monetary award or baseline assessment program. This is a different set of people we have.”
Judge Anita Brody must still approve the settlement.
Weiss believes that if a settlement hadn’t been reached, the case would’ve eventually landed before the U.S. Supreme Court with an uncertain outcome.
“You could be talking 10 years before there’s any relief for the guys who are really sick and need the money now,” Weiss said. “Getting the deal done now is worth a lot more than getting a deal done or maybe not done down the road.”