Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Inside Slant: Concussion plaintiffs give, get
By Kevin Seifert
You know by now that retired NFL players won an important concession this week to their landmark concussion settlement. The league agreed to remove its $675 million limit on awards and leave it uncapped moving forward, allaying fears that a rash of claims could deplete the fund before the end of its 65-year lifetime.
"Payments from this fund will be guaranteed now," said Christopher Seeger, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
The concession was necessary to win approval from U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who had previously expressed concern about the $675 million limit.
As with any negotiation, the retired players had to give something to remove the cap. Their primary concession, as confirmed by Seeger during a Wednesday conference call: The NFL greatly expanded its authority to appeal claim awards.
The original agreement, reached in August, allowed the NFL to appeal 10 claim awards per year. This week's revised settlement grants it the ability to appeal an unlimited total.
In simple terms, the NFL can object to any and all claim awards and pursue reversal via a binding and final appeals process run by Brody's court and advised by an independent appeals advisory panel. (Each claim can be appealed only once.)
That change conjures images of the NFL challenging and tying up dozens of awards annually to limit payouts. Retired players who have told horror stories of dealing with the NFL's disability program would be excused for being suspicious of this arrangement, but it's important to note that the doctors involved with the appeals process will be independent of the NFL.
Seeger retained a degree of oversight as well. The agreement requires the NFL to appeal "in good faith," and Seeger can petition Brody's court if he believes the NFL is "submitting vexatious, frivolous or bad faith appeals," according to wording in the legal document (PDF).
"We're going to be watching this very closely," Seeger said.
Seeger remains convinced the original $675 million will cover all the claims to come. It seemed clear, however, that Brody wasn't going to approve that figure and his clients weren't going to receive any relief until the arrangement was renegotiated. The necessary concession has the potential to be significant, and time will tell if that's the case.