PHILADELPHIA (CN) — The Third Circuit upheld a $1 billion settlement to compensate former NFL players who suffered neurodegenerative diseases from concussions and hits to the head during their careers.
The settlement agreement, approved by a federal judge last year, could compensate thousands of retired players up to $5 million each for diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia, ALS and other conditions.
Objectors to the settlement argued that it does not cover living patients suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a disorder caused by repeated concussions and diagnosed only post-mortem. It can lead to a variety of neurological changes such as memory impairment or mood swings.
The settlement would cover the relatives of patients whose death was linked to CTE, such as Junior Seau, the former San Diego Chargers linebacker who killed himself in 2012 and was later diagnosed with the disease.
The holdouts also argued that the settlement allowed the NFL to avoid admitting that it knew about the dangers of repeated head trauma, a point of contention recently renewed by a New York Times report in March documenting the league's use of pseudoscientific institutes similarly employed by the tobacco industry.
The NFL, however, admitted in 2014 that three out of 10 players would develop a neurodegenerative disease, not including from CTE.
"It is the nature of a settlement that some will be dissatisfied with the ultimate result," Judge Thomas Ambro wrote for a three-judge panel in the Third Circuit's April 18 opinion. "But they risk making the perfect the enemy of the good. This settlement will provide nearly $1 billion in value to the class of retired players. It is a testament to the players, researchers, and advocates who have worked to expose the true human costs of a sport so many love. Though not perfect, it is fair."
Despite the dissenters, the settlement was approved by about 98 percent of retired players.
"This settlement will provide significant and immediate relief to retired players living with the lasting scars of a NFL career, including those suffering from some of the symptoms associated with CTE," Ambro wrote. "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. Accordingly, we conclude that the settlement's treatment of CTE does not render the agreement fundamentally unfair."
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