'Uncapped' NFL Brain Injury Settlement OK'd

     (CN) - The NFL must cover the next 65 years of medical bills for more than 20,000 retired football players suffering from concussion-borne degenerative diseases, a federal judge ruled.
     Despite knowing that concussive and subconcussive head injuries often lead to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's diseases; early and moderate dementia; and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be diagnosed postmortem, a class of players has alleged that the NFL concealed those risks and failed to protect players from them.
     Thousands of former NFL players have filed more than 300 lawsuits of this nature since July 2011.
     The cases were consolidated in Philadelphia over two years ago, and the parties soon reached a settlement for more than 20,000 retired players, representatives of deceased or incapacitated players, and close family members.
     Though the settlement would have the NFL shell out $760 million over the course of 20 years, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody rejected it as inadequate earlier this year.
     Even with the NFL's promise to increase the $675 million fund with another $37.5 million, if need be, Brody found that the settlement would provide only a few hundred players with cash awards for 65 years.
     Six months of "hard-fought" negotiation led to a new settlement with an "uncapped" award fund, so the NFL must pay all valid claims for the next 65 years, Brody said last week.
     The revised settlement also no longer bars class members from suing amateur football organizations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association for cognitive injuries.
     Award levels, including up to $3.5 million for players diagnosed with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, $1.5 million and $3 million for those with dementia, $5 million for those with Lou Gehrig's disease, and $4 million for those who died with CTE, remain the same.
     Age at diagnosis and the number of seasons played could, however, diminish those figures.
     The settlement also still includes a $10 million education fund and $75 million to cover baseline neuropsychological and neurological evaluations and treatment for retired players.
     Notice expenses and attorneys' fees, plus claims administration costs, will cost the NFL up to $116.5 million, according to the new settlement.
     "The revised proposed settlement is a significant improvement over the proposed settlement presented in January," Brody wrote. "The new settlement ensures that there are sufficient funds available to pay all claims through the 65-year term of the settlement and improves the manner in which diagnoses are made to protect against fraud. The original proposed settlement with a monetary fund 'capped' at $675 million-no matter how well supported by the parties' actuarial analyses-entailed some degree of uncertainty of payment over the 65-year term. That risk should not be imposed on the settlement class members. Under the revised proposed settlement, the monetary award levels remain the same, but the NFL parties have agreed to 'uncap' their obligation to pay monetary awards to every claimant who demonstrates a bona fide compensable condition. The parties have satisfied my concern on this fundamental issue."
     In granting the deal preliminary approval, the court also conditionally certified the class of tens of thousands of players.
     "If the litigation were to continue, plaintiffs would be required to demonstrate that retired players' injuries were caused by NFL football play, as opposed to unrelated causes, the natural aging process, or concussions or sub-concussive hits experienced in youth or college football," Brody wrote. "Therefore, the significant legal challenges facing plaintiffs support preliminary approval of the proposed settlement."
     In a separate order, Brody said class counsel must notify the public about the settlement via magazines such as Time and Sports Illustrated, as well as television, radio and Internet ads by Sept. 15. A fairness hearing is slated for Nov. 19.