Ex-NFL Player’s Counsel Dodges Attorney’s Fees Assessment

A federal judge on August 21, 2017 denied a motion requesting that the NFL Player Disability and Neurocognitive Benefit Plan and its board assess $20,000 in attorney’s fees against the counsel of former NFL player, Brian Jackson.

Brian Jackson, who played with the New York Jets, the New York Giants, then the St. Louis Rams, had originally sought disability benefits in December 2014 from football-related injuries. The claims committee unanimously denied his claim because Jackson had to prove he was experiencing at least 25 percent impairment of his “whole person,” but his evaluation came in only at 23 and 24 percent. On his appeal, which was denied in May 2016, Jackson argued that the doctor’s calculation of his impairment was incorrect and the board improperly relied on that calculation. Jackson’s attorney explained that the denial of Jackson’s appeal highlighted the disparity in power between NFL players and the NFL plan and disability board when it chooses doctors to evaluate conditions.

Along with denying Jackson’s appeal, U.S. District Judge Miller had granted the plan and board leave to seek attorney’s fees. The plan and board filed the motion for fees on June 29, 2017, arguing that attorney’s fees should be assessed against Jackson’s counsel, rather than Jackson himself, because Jackson’s counsel “undeniably knew from the start that the case was frivolous.” Judge Miller denied the motion, ruling that there was no precedent supporting assessment of attorney’s fees against opposing party’s counsel under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

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