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“The allegations deal with what happens after a player is injured _ and injuries are expected in football _ as opposed to tobacco cases where the initial injury _ the smoking-related illness _ is the event at issue,” said attorney Stephen Brody, who was part of a team of government prosecutors who filed a civil racketeering lawsuit that resulted in a judge finding that tobacco companies conspired to dupe consumers about the health risks of smoking.

“That’s where you run into a key difference. On the football field, you have professionals who are taking care of these players and who have access to a growing body of scientific research. In the tobacco cases, the plaintiff already has the injury allegedly caused by the defendant before they see a doctor for treatment.”

Up next in the NFL litigation is the league’s motion to dismiss the case, which could be filed by Aug. 9. The question there is whether the suits should be thrown out because they are pre-empted under federal labor law by the league’s collective bargaining agreement with players. The deal includes the medical care of players, but Bill Gould, a Stanford law professor and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, argues retired players aren’t part of the agreement.

“The retirees are not employees under the CBA and the National Labor Relations Act,” Gould said. “There’s no standard set for resolution of these kinds of issues under the CBA.”

The NFL has had success with pre-emption before. The Minnesota Supreme Court refused to allow the widow of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer to pursue a wrongful death suit after he died of heatstroke following a 2001 practice. The court found that the claim was pre-empted because its resolution required interpretation of the CBA terms and was inextricably intertwined with federal labor law, Feldman said.

Stringer’s wife later settled with the NFL over a negligence claim.

“The league’s pre-emption argument has already been accepted by two federal judges in these very litigations, who concluded that plaintiffs’ claims were substantially dependent upon and arose under the various collective bargaining agreements under which the plaintiffs’ played and therefore preempted by federal labor law,” the NFL said.

A judge’s ruling on the pre-emption issue is likely to take months, but even if the lawsuits are allowed to move forward, Feldman said it will be difficult to show a direct link between the hits players took in NFL games and the injuries that hamper them now.

“Even if the league knew of these risks, how do these players know whether these injuries were suffered during a game, during practice or even earlier in Pee Wee football or high school or college?” Feldman asked. “There are so many intervening forces to break or at least muddy the (causal) chain.”

Most legal experts believe a settlement will have to be considered at some point by the NFL and co-defendant helmet-maker Riddell Inc.

“The financial burden, let alone the bad publicity with protracted litigation, is too much to bear,” Gould said.

Said Brody: “One thing you can say given the complexities of the legal issues involved, it’s unlikely the litigation is going to be resolved for a long time.”