Although most former players will have any benefits arising from head injuries while playing professional football processed and resolved by broader concussion settlement, players had the right to opt out and pursue their own claims against the league. That’s what the family of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau did.
On Friday, the NFL settled the Seau suit.
Via Teri Figueroa of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the two sides reached a confidential agreement to resolve the litigation arising from Seau’s May 2012 suicide. Seau’s brain showed evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, and his family blamed Seau’s suicide on years of concussions suffered while playing pro football.
A first-round pick in 1990, Seau played through 2009. That’s the year the NFL reluctantly admitted (after years of stonewalling) that concussions can cause long-term health issues. As a linebacker, Seau was routinely delivering and absorbing hits with and to his helmet.
Attorney Steve Strauss explained that the amount of the settlement could not be discussed, but that Seau’s clients (his four children and his estate) are “pleased” by the outcome.
According to Figueroa, Seau’s estate would have received $4 million under the formula established by the concussion settlement. Presumably, Seau’s estate got more than that.
Confidentiality provisions are very common in civil settlements negotiated between private parties in litigation. The side paying the money strongly prefers to avoid letting the world know the amount of the payment, in order to avoid both negative P.R. consequences and an open invitation for others to pursue a similar recovery from a company that is perceived as being willing to buy its way out of lawsuits. That necessarily gives the claim even more value, and potentially boosted the Seau estate’s recovery.
Also potentially boosting the Seau estate’s recovery was the league’s clear desire to avoid opening its files to careful inspection regarding what the league knew and when the league knew it regarding concussions. If that information was ever made available for widespread public inspection and media scrutiny, NFL football could quickly be relegated to third-class status in the landscape of American pro sports.