The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear arguments from players who challenged the NFL concussion settlement, allowing players affected by the lawsuit to begin collecting their part of the $1 billion settlement. The lawsuit was originally filed by football players who alleged the NFL knew about a link between concussions and serious brain injuries, but did not warn players and did not properly protect them from repeated injury. Some players, however, appealed the settlement, arguing it did not adequately address the health concerns many players could face in the future.
Supreme Court Rejects Challenges to NFL Lawsuit Settlement
On December 12, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled it would not hear arguments from plaintiffs who alleged the settlement does not cover future cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Approximately 31 players and the family members of some who have died, petitioned the Supreme Court to examine the deal.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy can only be diagnosed in an autopsy. Under the settlement agreement, the families of players who are diagnosed with CTE after the 2015 settlement approval won’t be eligible for a CTE payout, even if the player is currently experiencing symptoms, which can include depression and aggression.
NFL Concussion Settlement Split Among 20,000 Retired Players
The NFL settlement is believed to be worth around $1 billion, when all payouts to players, their families, and attorneys are factored in. Around 20,000 living retired players will share in the settlement. Each individual will receive an amount based on their circumstances, including brain injury and their age. Players could receive anywhere up to $1.5 million for moderate dementia up to $5 million for ALS. The maximum payout for Alzheimer’s is $3.5 million. Approximately 6,000 former players could develop Alzheimer’s or moderate dementia, according to NFL estimates.
In addition to payments to players, the fund will provide money for concussion research and education.
Prior to their appeal to the Supreme Court, critics of NFL concussion settlement appealed to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, who also declined to hear the argument.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has decided not to review the unanimous and well-reasoned decisions of Judge Brody and the Third Circuit approving the settlement of this litigation,” NFL officials said in a statement. “We look forward to working with class counsel and Judge Brody to implement the settlement and provide the important benefits that our retired players and their families have been waiting to receive.”
The NFL had tried to force players to go through arbitration to settle their concussion lawsuit claims, a process that would have prevented them from filing a class-action lawsuit and would have prevented the large NFL concussion settlement.
Settlement Could Mean Players Won’t Learn What NFL Knew
Due to the fact that a settlement was reached before the lawsuit went to trial, it’s likely the NFL will never have to share what it knew about the risks of repeated concussions and when it had that information. The lawsuit alleged the NFL knew about the risks but did not tell players that suffering too many concussions could potentially cause long-term brain damage.
In March 2016, Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president for health and safety, was asked during a House committee meeting about the link between football and CTE. When questioned about research into football and CTE, Miller reportedly conceded that football had been linked to brain disease. But for the most part, the NFL has been reluctant to confirm any link and Miller himself followed up the admission that research has linked NFL players to CTE with a comment that there were still many questions that come with the research.
Two other professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the NHL have also faced concussion-related lawsuits. The NCAA settled its lawsuit while the NHL is still fighting claims against it. The NHL, however, has taken steps to combat allegations that it is not concerned with player safety by implementing concussion spotters to monitor players.
Some Players Opted Out of the Settlement
Not all players chose to be part of the NFL concussion settlement. Approximately 100 former players opted out, which could allow them to file lawsuits of their own in the future. Judge Anita B. Brody, who approved the settlement in 2015, will make a decision on those players.
Lead Plaintiff Won’t Share in NFL Concussion Settlement
One of the lead plaintiffs in the suit against the NFL was Kevin Turner, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. Six years ago, Turner was diagnosed with ALS, but after his death in March 2016, he was diagnosed with CTE. Dr. Ann McKee, a leading researcher in CTE, said the severity of Turner’s disease was extraordinary for an athlete who died in his 40s. Although Turner did not live to see the lawsuit resolved, his children are eligible to take part in the NFL concussion settlement.
Turner has reportedly pledged his brain to help advance research.
NFL Implements Protocol
Similar to the NHL, the NFL implemented a concussion protocol in 2013. How well those protocol works is under scrutiny. Critics point out that players have been left in games despite suffering head trauma, including a player who lay motionless on the field briefly before getting up and continuing in play. Some players who were left in games were later diagnosed with concussions.