NFL Tackles Claims by Players Who Opted-Out of Concussion Settlement

The NFL requested on Monday, September 25, 2017 that a Pennsylvania federal court dismiss claims by former players who had opted out of an uncapped settlement agreement with the league. The players who had opted out had filed their second amended complaint in July, alleging that the league purposely concealed the long-term risks associated with head injuries and failed to implement proper safety measures to protect players. The NFL argued the new complaint presents claims dependent upon an interpretation of the terms of numerous health and safety provisions of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between the league and its player’s union. The CBAs outline how disputes over issues covered by the agreements are to be hashed out, so the NFL argued the players’ claims are preempted under the Labor Management Relations Act and, therefore, players must grieve their disputes by the resolution process prescribed by the CBAs rather than by bringing claims in court.

The NFL also filed to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. It argued that the opt-out players’ fraud-based claims fail because the complaint does not show how the players relied on misstatements or omissions concerning football and neurocognitive injuries that were allegedly made by the NFL, and that the complaint failed to adequately allege that the league intended to mislead the players or that its alleged fraud caused their injuries. The motion also argues the players’ negligent hiring and retention claims failed because the complaint did not show the members of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee acted outside the scope of their employment, or that the NFL should have known the members would commit fraud. The NFL also hit back against players’ conspiracy claims and stated in their motion the claims were “too far-fetched to be plausible.” The conspiracy claims alleged that the NFL worked with a helmet manufacturer, international corporations, and the federal government in conspiring to falsify research and suppress science.

The original number players who opted out of the settlement was over 220 in November 2014 during the initial approval process for the concussion settlement, but has decreased since with 95 opt-outs remaining. The opt-out players, who decided not to join 22,000 others, allege that the settlement, which offers payments between $1.5 million to $5 million, arbitrarily offered more compensation for certain concussion-related degenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, yet restricted payouts for others, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

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