Third Circuit Unanimously Votes to Uphold NFL Concussion Settlement

On Monday, April 18, 2016, the dramatized litigation battle between a class of former professional football players, their loved ones, and the NFL may have potentially come to an end as the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which oversees federal district courts located in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, affirmed an uncapped settlement agreed to in 2015. The Third Circuit panel, writing in a unanimous opinion, found that both the uncapped settlement itself was fair and that the class as certified was significantly representative of former players currently suffering, or who have passed away while suffering during their lives, from various ailments brought about by experiencing repetitive head trauma during their playing days.

In upholding the settlement as agreed to between the League and representatives of the class of injured players, the Third Circuit essentially put an end to the challenges of several objectors, which will allow payouts under the agreement to expeditiously move forward. Under the terms of the settlement, former players diagnosed with such degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s can receive up to $3.5 million to help cover medical expenses and other heal-related financial difficulties. Other such terms include the NFL paying up to $4 million to the families of players diagnosed with CTE (which can only as of now be diagnosed posthumously), and agreeing to pay $5 million to retired players who suffer paralyzing illnesses such as amytomorphic lateral sclerosis, both of which studies have shown football players are at a higher risk of exposure. However, the settlement excludes a payout to any retired player who passes away after a certain cutoff date; as well, it fails to provide any reimbursement to former players who do not qualify under the specific conditions listed. Nevertheless, according to the Third Circuit’s opinion, even though some will no doubt continue to be dissatisfied with their decision, the NFL will end up paying over $1 billion to retired players for their sustained injuries. As the judges opine, the settlement “[t]hough not perfect, it is fair.”

The class of retired players in favor of the settlement, in a statement released Monday through their co-lead counsel Christopher Seeger, recognized the Third Circuit’s support of the settlement in lieu of any well-intentioned arguments appeal its approval. In Seeger’s own words:

We are pleased with the Third Circuit’s decision to completely uphold the District Court’s approval of the settlement. This extraordinary settlement’s implementation has been delayed enough by this small group of objectors, whose arguments have been exhaustively examined and overruled by both the District Court and Third Circuit. We hope they will consider the over 20,000 retired players and their families that support this agreement before filing additional appeals that will only extend these delays further. This widespread support is illustrated by the more than 8,000 retired players who have sought enrollment in the settlement’s benefits even though the claims process has not opened as appeals are considered.

The Third Circuit’s decision Monday will undoubtedly have future implications on the pending litigation between other professional sport leagues, such as the NHL and WWE, currently embattled in similar concussion lawsuits.

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