In a rare case of a former NFL player successfully suing to get a pension, a federal judge has sided with ex-Browns defensive lineman Andrew Stewart in his legal case against the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan, which provides retirement and disability benefits to eligible players.
A.J. Perez of FOXSports.com reports that U.S. District Court Judge William Quarles Jr. ordered the retirement plan to provide Stewart with permanent disability benefits because he suffered leg and hand injuries during his time as an NFL player. Such a ruling is incredibly rare: The only other time a player won such a case against the retirement plan was when the estate of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster won a judgment in 2005.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” Stewart told FOXSports.com. “Nobody ever wins these cases.”
At least, nobody except Stewart and Webster. Many former players have complained that the system is designed to make it nearly impossible for players who are denied benefits to demonstrate that the denial was incorrect, but Stewart winning this case is a demonstration that a player can, in fact, get retirement benefits from the plan even if he’s initially turned down. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement adopted last year has also streamlined the process for players seeking benefits.
Stewart played all 16 games for the Browns as a rookie in 1989 but never played in a regular-season game again after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in training camp the following year. He later signed with the Bengals only to suffer a torn ACL in practice, then signed with the 49ers only to suffer a hand injury during practice. He says he currently needs knee replacement and can’t write because of his injured hand, making it difficult to find work. His legal victory will get him up to $6,000 a month in additional benefits.