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Judge's decision means NFL may have to pay more

Posted: January 15, 2014 - 1:01am
FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2013 file photo, Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, left, catches a pass as New Orleans Saints' Keenan Lewis, right, defends in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Lewis is one of two NFL players that is said to have violated league concussion protocol during last weekend's wild-card games. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)  Chuck Burton
Chuck Burton
FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2013 file photo, Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, left, catches a pass as New Orleans Saints' Keenan Lewis, right, defends in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Lewis is one of two NFL players that is said to have violated league concussion protocol during last weekend's wild-card games. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

NEW YORK — The NFL’s concussion settlement popped back into the national consciousness Tuesday — and it’s no closer to being resolved — just as the league was set for a big couple of weeks.

On the cusp of a championship weekend with two appealing matchups ahead of the first Super Bowl in the New York area, the NFL is facing the possibility that it will have to pay more money to reach a settlement on the concussion issue.

The league’s deal with former players hit a snag when a federal judge asked both parties to back up their assertions that the settlement is fair to both sides.

Based on the 12-page ruling issued by Judge Anita B. Brody Tuesday, the NFL may have to pay out more money.

Brody denied a motion that was meant to serve as a preliminary approval for the settlement, seeking more information. She wrote that she was “primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid,” and that the lawyers for both parties have not addressed those concerns.

Meanwhile, former players looking to receive assistance for the injuries they suffered while playing in the league will have to wait longer to be compensated.

The two sides agreed in late August, just before the season kicked off and the issue largely went to the back burner, awaiting Brody’s decision. The weekly accounting of brain injuries on the field, despite efforts to reduce them, did still make headlines.

Both sides said they would try to assure the judge the money will last. Also, they can modify the deal in other ways to assuage her concerns, too.

“We are confident that the settlement is fair and adequate, and look forward to demonstrating that to the court,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Brody pointed out that the class of approximately 20,000 could overwhelm the fund, even if only 10 percent of its members file claims against the $675 million set aside to pay claims, working out to $337,500 per player.

The maximum payments in the settlement include $5 million for a younger retiree with Lou Gehrig’s disease, $3 million for serious dementia, and $25,000 for an 80-year-old with early dementia.

The rest of the $765 million represents neurological testing and education. Lawyers will be paid on top of that by the NFL, meaning the suit would cost the league $900 million — or about 10 percent of one year’s annual revenues.

Brody also took issue with another part of the original agreement, writing in a footnote that she was concerned that the agreement prevents participants from suing the NCAA and other amateur football organizations.

At the time they reached the deal, the players’ lawyers said that they would have faced huge challenges just to get the case to trial. They would have to prove the injuries were linked to the players’ NFL service and should not be handled through league arbitration.

On Tuesday, a statement from the players’ lawyers, Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, said “We believe this is an extraordinary settlement for retired NFL players and their families, and have received overwhelming support as they have learned about its benefits. We look forward to finalizing this agreement so they can soon begin taking advantage of its benefits.”

NFL CONCUSSION LAWSUIT AT A GLANCE:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — WHAT HAPPENED: Lawyers for more than 4,500 former players and the NFL have agreed to settle the lawsuit brought by the players for concussion-linked injuries they suffered while playing. Settlements must be approved by a judge to ensure they are fair to both parties. In this case, Judge Anita B. Brody said she wants more financial data before giving preliminary approval to the agreement.

WHAT SHE SAID: “I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid.” ... She also said “it is difficult to see how” the $675 million fund set aside to pay claims will last for 65 years, as projected in the settlement.

WHAT THAT MEANS: The parties need to provide more information to back up their claims that the money will be sufficient. If they can’t do that to her satisfaction, they may need to renegotiate the terms of the settlement.

WHAT’S NEXT? Brody wrote that she would order the parties to submit more information to the court. Once that happens, and if she gives preliminary approval to the settlement, there will be a hearing at which objectors can speak and their issues addressed before final settlement and payments.

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