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A judge's decision to send both sides in the contentious National Football League concussion lawsuit back to the bargaining table increases the risk that a July 2014 settlement may fall through.
In a three-page ruling issued Monday in federal court in Philadelphia, U.S. District Court Judge Anita B. Brody informed lawyers representing the league and the players that they have until Feb. 13 to make amendments to a revised, uncapped settlement to establish a compensation fund for retired players with qualifying neurocognitive conditions.
Judge Brody sent the settlement back to both parties, indicating in her instructions that more has to done to help injured players.
Christopher Seeger, co-lead counsel for the retired player plaintiffs and Seeger Weiss L.L.P., said he is confident the settlement will receive final approval.
“We look forward to finalizing this agreement so that retired players can begin taking advantage of its benefits,” Mr. Seeger said in a statement.
Christopher Fusco, managing partner at Callahan & Fusco L.L.P. in New York, said he thinks both sides will ultimately come to an agreement, but he also said the amendments proposed by Judge Brody are “moving the goal posts” and may cause unease for the defendants as the price tag for the compensation fund approaches $1 billion.
“The settlement is bleeding,” Mr. Fusco said. “The judge wants them to settle closer to $1billion and if that was the bottom line, I think the NFL will still do it. However, if it leaks anymore and goes past $1 billion, there is a chance this falls apart.”
Despite changes already made in the settlement of the suit seeking compensation for concussion-related illnesses and injuries, many say it is still insufficient to help injured players.
Mel Owens, a Lake Forest, California-based partner at Namanny, Byrne & Owens who also is a 10-year NFL veteran and a member of the class of players suing the league, said the deal as it stands would exclude future payments for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain condition common in former athletes who have suffered concussions.
“CTE is the basis for all of this, but somehow the NFL has managed to get CTE out of the equation,” he said. “They stiffed the players.”
Mr. Owens also said the current settlement gives the NFL an unlimited right to appeal requests for compensation made by former players.
“Just like the NFL does with workers compensation, they will fight and appeal everything,” he said. “The NFL is the winner in this and most of the players, in my opinion over 95% of them, will not see anything.”
The NFL did not respond to requests for comment.
The National Football League and lawyers representing former players who sued the league after suffering concussions during their careers announced a revised settlement offer Wednesday, several months after a federal judge rejected preliminary approval of a $765 million settlement.