Finally, motion for preliminary approval of concussion settlement is filed

Getty Images

More than four months after a deal was struck to settle the concussion lawsuits filed by more than 4,500 former players, a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement has been filed.  Judge Anita Brody will now decide whether to grant preliminary approval to the settlement.

Lawyers representing the players who filed the lawsuits issued a press release today announcing the filing of the motion, and trumpeting the virtues of the deal.

“This is an extraordinary settlement for retired NFL players and their families – from those who suffer with severe neuro-cognitive illnesses today, to those who are currently healthy but fear they may develop symptoms decades into the future,” attorney Christopher Seeger said.  “Both the baseline assessment and compensation programs were designed to protect retired players over the long-term, ensuring that these important benefits will be available to any eligible retired player who needs them.  Importantly, those applying for the benefits provided by this settlement will not need to prove that their neurological problem was caused by playing football, and all collectively-bargained benefits are also preserved.

“We have received overwhelming support as retired players and their families learn more about the benefits that are provided in this settlement. We look forward to finalizing this agreement so they can soon take advantage of the programs that are included in this agreement.”

It sounds good, in part because Seeger has a strong incentive to secure approval of the deal.  He then has a strong incentive to encourage as many retired players as possible to accept the deal, refraining from exercising their right to opt out.

Few if any players will know what they’ll be getting until after the settlement is approved and the administrative process of carving up $675 million allocated for compensation commences.  That could make some players hesitant to proceed.

Moreover, payment will be made only to players who have, or who eventually develop, “severe cognitive impairment.”  A player who only has a “mild” or “moderate” cognitive impairment gets nothing.

For players currently struggling with severe cognitive impairments, it’s a good deal.  It makes them eligible for potentially significant payments now, regardless of whether their impairments resulted from playing pro football.  Also, it short circuits a judicial process that otherwise would have consumed the better part of a decade, and that presented multiple hurdles that could have resulted in an outright victory for the NFL.

Still, the guys who’ll get nothing may choose to roll the dice and proceed with litigation, especially since that’s the only way to expose what the NFL knew and when the NFL knew it about the long-term risks of concussions.  Likewise, some may think that the NFL isn’t paying enough, in light of the league’s massive revenues and profits.

Before that process can begin, Judge Anita Brody must give preliminary approval to the deal.  If/when she does, all retired players will become part of the settlement class, whether they filed suit or not.

As a practical matter, the deal likely won’t be finalized for months.  Even if it is, chances are that some of the plaintiffs will choose to reject the deal and keep pushing the litigation, if for no reason other than to get to the truth.