Judge blocks NFL settlement for concussions, demands changes

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Recently,  a U.S. judge said she would not accept a proposed settlement between the National Football League and thousands of retired players over concussions, saying some changes were needed before she would approve the settlement.  Her ruling came down  one day after the Super Bowl.  U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia said the agreement should expand payment eligibility for some players and families.  Among the changes she wants is a written promise that retired players who died of the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after she granted preliminary approval of the accord last July 7 would be covered.  Brody was swayed by the objections of dozens of former players and their families who said the deal wasn’t good enough, especially for those with symptoms of CTE, which is a brain disease diagnosed only after death.

The NFL had agreed to pay $4 million each to families of former players who died from CTE before July 7, but nothing to those diagnosed afterward.  Brody also said the settlement should provide for some credit for play in the World League of American Football, the NFL Europe League, and the NFL Europa League, and allow for testing of more players “regardless of funding limitations” in the agreement.  The judge said the modifications would “enhance the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy” of the settlement.  She ordered lawyers for the NFL and the players by Feb. 13 to propose amending the settlement to address her concerns, or explain why they cannot.

Brody had granted preliminary approval for the settlement in July after the NFL agreed to remove a $765 million cap on payments.  Most of the 20,000 former players involved in the class-action lawsuit back the deal, which provides payments of up to $5 million to those with the most serious neurological impairments.  Even though most of the retired players in the class approved the accord, dozens of players and their relatives criticized it. The deal fell short especially for players with CTE symptoms, critics said. The disease  mimics symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS.

In the lawsuits merged together before Brody, players accused the NFL of negligence and failing to inform players of the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries.

“The suggestion that the judge has decided not to approve the settlement is entirely unfounded, and nothing in today’s order supports such a conclusion,” Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, said in a statement. “We intend promptly to discuss with class counsel the points addressed in the order and continue to have a high degree of confidence that this settlement –- which has been accepted by more than 99 percent of retirees -– will receive final approval and provide important and generous benefits to retirees and their families.”

Chris Seeger, the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer who helped negotiate the deal, said Monday he remains “confident” of the court’s final approval.   “We are grateful to Judge Brody for her guidance and continued efforts to protect the rights of all class members,” Seeger said in a statement.

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