Delay of Game: Slow Progress on Settlement in NFL Concussion Litigation
By late last year the giant NFL concussion lawsuit – a case where several thousand former NFL players are suing the league for intentionally downplaying the risks of concussions and related head injuries – looked to be drawing to an early end. Now, one week after U.S. District Judge Anita Brody rejected a motion for preliminary approval of a proposed $765 million settlement to end the ongoing multi-district concussion litigation against the NFL, renewed settlement talks amongst attorneys for the 4,500+ NFL alumni are becoming increasingly bitter and contentious.
The proposed settlement was initially rejected by Judge Brody because she feared that it would fail to adequately provide for the large number of injured plaintiffs. At that point, it was back to the drawing board for the players’ executive committee – a select group of attorneys chosen to oversee settlement negotiations. However, disagreements between committee members have threatened to seriously derail settlement talks and any hopes of reaching a deal.
For example, Tom Girardi (one of the committee members) was excluded from recent committee meetings because the other committee members felt Girardi was leaking settlement information to the media. Another committee member, Michael Hausfield, was also excluded from committee negotiations due to his controversial role in an unrelated case involving NFL licensing agreements.
Still, Tom Seeger, a third executive committee member and main architect of the original settlement deal, remained hopeful that a compromise could be reached. Commenting on a recent settlement meeting, Seeger noted that “there were many productive exchanges, and we are confident that attendees left better equipped to help retired players take advantage of this settlement once it is approved. . . we look forward to finalizing it soon so that [the players] can begin taking advantage of its benefits.”
Other plaintiffs’ attorneys were less than optimistic about the alleged “progress” that was being made. One attorney who attended a recent settlement meeting called it “a complete and utter waste of time . . . . Nothing, nothing at this informational meeting resembled information. It was a dog and pony show without the dog and pony.” Two other plaintiffs’ attorneys (John Giddens and Phillip Thomas) were so distraught over the lack of settlement progress that they filed a formal motion objecting to preliminary approval of the settlement deal on behalf of 177 former players that they represent. A third group of plaintiffs’ attorneys have decided to wait for additional information before advising their clients to opt in or out of any settlement deal.
Commenting on the time required to reach a deal, on skeptical attorney quipped, “This is gonna have a longer shelf than people think.”