Third Circuit Upholds NFL Brain Injury Settlement

Three years ago, the NFL reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by 5,000 athletes who had experienced concussions and developed brain diseases like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) while playing for the NFL. On April 18, 2016, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals approved the settlement, despite complaints that it is not sufficiently comprehensive. The largest objection is that the settlement does not compensate athletes who may be diagnosed with CTE in the future.In March, the NFL’s senior vice president admitted a correlation between football and brain disorders like CTE. The court’s opinion likewise acknowledged the correlation between football and CTE, and it characterized the NFL’s admission on CTE — despite being a significant development — as “conceding something already known.” The court did not find the late admission sufficiently important to overturn the roughly $1 billion settlement.

The court wrote in its opinion that it might have changed the settlement had it been starting afresh or drawing up the settlement itself. The court concluded that its role was rather to review the settlement already agreed to for adequacy, fairness, and reasonableness. And with regard to that task, the court concluded that the current settlement provides immediate and significant relief to retired athletes suffering from CTE symptoms.

The court expressed hesitation about rejecting the settlement based on a groundless wish that returning the parties to negotiations would generate a more favorable deal. Since the settlement had already been in effect for three years, some speculate that the court was influenced by the pressure of time. The court noted that relatively speaking, the 200 dissenters were a small group. And in fact, the vast majority of players did not object to the settlement. On the bright side, large sums of money that didn’t exist before the settlement are now available to players.

The court upheld the settlement even though it awards compensation to players diagnosed with CTE before the settlement’s approval, but not afterward. Regarding this, the court reasoned that the argument that all players with CTE should be awarded compensation misconstrues how monetary awards work. Retired athletes who had CTE and died before the settlement, the court reasoned, may have lacked sufficient notice that they needed to be diagnosed. For the athletes who died prior to the settlement, signs of CTE allowed for a diagnosis of neurological problems that could have been compensated while the players were alive.

The large problem with this aspect of the settlement is that players who are still living may develop symptoms associated with CTE that are linked with ailments that are covered by the agreement. Thus, a football player with undiagnosed neurological symptoms can pass away and be discovered to have CTE, and the settlement will leave no monetary compensation to his family.

The court admitted that this aspect of the settlement is less than ideal. The court wrote that hopefully players’ CTE symptoms will be discovered while they are living. That future players with CTE might not be compensated is distressing to dissenters. Some believe that the fact that future players diagnosed with CTE may not be compensated might unjustly reward the NFL for its years of denying CTE.

In fact, it is well-established that the NFL relied on faulty science to defend itself from CTE allegations. The New York Times wrote last March that a minimum of 100 concussions were left out of the database used by an NFL committee to downplay head injuries. The database was used by the league’s brain injury committee to conduct several studies run by a doctor, who claimed there was no link between football and CTE. Boston University’s Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy, however, published evidence of CTE in former NFL players who had given their brains to the lab.

Since the settlement was reached based on now-defunct CTE science, many find it unjust that it was upheld. What’s more, the NFL is now able to acknowledge CTE without assuming any additional liability.

If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, you may face significant medical bills and time off work, and you may need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to redress your injuries. At the Neumann Law Group, our personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state of Massachusetts. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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