NFL concussion lawyer expects case to heat up soon

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) - The court fight over NFL concussions should heat up soon as a judge in Philadelphia weighs the fairness of the proposed $765 million settlement.

Lead players’ lawyer Sol Weiss expects the court’s financial expert to advise the judge “shortly” on his view of the class-action plan.

Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody has voiced concerns that the fund won’t cover 20,000 retirees for 65 years. And critics believe the NFL is getting off lightly, given its $9 billion in annual revenues.

“When you look at it objectively, it didn’t matter how much money the NFL had, it was, ‘Is there enough money to take care of (people)?’” Weiss said Friday at a seminar at the Villanova University School of Law outside Philadelphia.

The proposed settlement would pay as much as $5 million for men with the most serious neurological injuries, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The awards would depend on a retiree’s age and diagnosis. Those with serious dementia would get $3 million, while an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000. All plaintiffs would get cognitive testing, and follow-up care if needed.

“Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis … it is difficult to see how the monetary award fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels,” Brody wrote in January, when she asked for more actuarial details and appointed New York financier Perry Golkin to advise her.

Weiss remains confident the fund is sufficient, and that most players will sign on rather than spend years fighting the NFL in court. The surprise settlement emerged in August, after several months of closed-door meetings with a mediator.

“There were a lot of talks; they went on for a long period of time … and the NFL’s tough,” Weiss said Friday. “We did get to a point where there was enough money on the table to take care of the sick players and their families, and that’s the time we make the deal.”

Brody was expected to hold a fairness hearing in the coming months, when objectors can challenge the plan, and decide whether to opt out.

“Those players and their lawyers who think it’s not enough money will get an opportunity to be heard,” Weiss said Friday.

Brody could approve the settlement, reject it, or perhaps suggest the two sides negotiate anew. However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers consider time of the essence, especially for families dealing with the dementia, depression and even violence associated with traumatic brain injuries.

“These are profoundly injured people. Some of them are dead, and their families deserve compensation,” said Weiss, whose lead plaintiff, former Atlanta Falcon safety Ray Easterling, committed suicide in 2012, a year after filing suit.

“They forget things. They have a lot of anger issues. They can’t hold a job. They really can’t have a meaningful relations,” Weiss said. “Their lives are upside down.”

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