$857M Concussion Lawsuit – NFL Settles.

Great news coming from the States could change the way concussion is managed by AFL.

The NFL have settled their longstanding concussion lawsuit with a reported $857 million payout.

By Michael Idato, August 30 2013, The Age Online.

NFL settles $857 million concussion lawsuit.

How much is a blow to the head worth? It’s a question which has perplexed elite sports for decades, particularly as contact sports become more intense and the risk to its participants increases.

In a move which has sports bodies around the world watching closely, America’s peak football body has reached a settlement which gives an answer to that question: three quarters of a billion dollars.

The National Football League (NFL) has reached a tentative US$765 million ($857 million) settlement over concussion-related brain injuries in which it agrees to compensate those affected by injuries and invest in medical research.

More than 4500 former athletes, some suffering from concussion-related injuries, had sued the NFL claiming they had either concealed the risks associated with concussion, or had sent injured players back out to play.

The settlement has come after several months of mediation between the two groups. It still has to be approved by a federal judge.

Under the settlement, all former NFL players are eligible to seek compensation based on their age, condition and the number of years they played. Players currently in the NFL are not covered by the settlement.
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon.

US$675 million of the settlement will be directly allocated to former players, or their families, who have suffered “cognitive injury” .

The balance will be spent on medical research and healthcare costs for former players who are still undergoing medical examinations.

The settlement effectively means the issue won’t be tested in court – a move which many observers felt would place immense pressure on competitive sport as its policies and procedures were tested legally.

“It’s more important that the players have finality, that they’re vindicated,” Philadelphia-based lawyer Sol Weiss said on Thursday.

Weiss filed one of the first lawsuits in the action, on behalf of former Atlanta Falcons player Ray Easterling.

Easterling committed suicide in April 2012 and his autopsy revealed signs of long-term concussion-related damage. His wife Mary Ann continued to support the fight after his death.

Weiss told Fairfax it was a “personal win” for the Easterling family.

“We are very happy this litigation looks like it will bring success to Mary Ann Easterling,” Weiss said. “I am sorry her husband committed suicide but he was angry and he didn’t know why.”

Easterling’s autopsy confirmed he was suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease similar to dementia which can only be diagnosed after death. It is caused by concussive head injuries.

Weiss described it as “pretty much a signature, shall you say, of the problem”.

Another retired player, Junior Seau, also committed suicide and was later diagnosed with CTE.

Other plantiffs included the former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim McMahon.

The lawsuit is also likely to shine a spotlight on international contact sports, particularly in Australia and the UK where players compete with less protective gear and, in the case of some sporting codes, play in more dangerous conditions.

Weiss told Fairfax he welcomed the attention on international contact sports.
“I think the litigation that was brought in the United States has had a positive effect, for example, in women’s soccer, men’s soccer, lacrosse and women’s field hockey,” he said. “I hope this helps other international sports.”

“When you are in a position where your head gets hit, you need to have rules and you need to have safety rules to protect people from going back and playing when they have closed head injuries. That’s the bottom line,” Weiss said.

Former US district judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator who helped forge the deal, said a trial would have been costly, long and difficult to address on a case-by-case basis, with the outcome uncertain for either side.

“This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football,” Phillips said of the deal, which is still pending court approval.

“Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed.”

The NFL has already brought in several changes to on-field procedures aimed at minimising concussive injuries to players.

Players carrying the ball in NFL games are now forbidden from using the crown of the helmet to make contact with defenders and injured players can not return to the field without the consent of an independent neurologist.

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