Here are questions and answers provided by former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator who oversaw settlement talks between the NFL and the thousands of former players who brought concussion-related lawsuits. The settlement, announced Thursday, still needs the approval of Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia.
Who will receive the money and how? Retired players will have the opportunity to participate in baseline medical exams. Players with demonstrated cognitive injury, now or in the future, will be able to obtain a monetary award. The decisions regarding who qualifies and the amount of the award will be made by independent doctors and fund administrators agreed upon by the parties, and the federal court in Philadelphia will retain ultimate oversight.
How will the medical monitoring work? A nationwide network of health care providers will be available to give the baseline exams to retired players. The goal will be to make the exam sites convenient so that as many retirees as possible can take advantage of the potential medical benefits.
Is this an acknowledgement by the NFL that it hid information on long-term effects? No. An agreement doesn't imply anything about either side's position. It doesn't mean that the NFL hid information or did what the plaintiffs claimed in their complaint. It does not mean that the plaintiffs' injuries were caused by football or that the plaintiffs would have been able to prove that their injuries were caused by football. On the other hand, it doesn't mean that the plaintiffs wouldn't have been able to prove their case. The settlement means that the parties reached an agreement to put litigation behind them, get help to retired players who need it, and work proactively to support research and make the game safer. These are goals everyone can share.
What would be the process without a settlement? Absent a certified litigation class or some creative form of consolidation, every case would have to be addressed individually. Doing so would be complicated, time consuming, expensive, and the outcome for both sides would be highly uncertain.
How were you able to get the parties to settle something that seemed so contentious? To their credit, both sides recognized that it would be far more productive to get out of court and do something good for retired players with medical needs and focus on the future of the game and making it safer. I would characterize it as a 'win-win.' The alternative was for the two sides to spend the next 10 years and millions of dollars on litigation, which would have been great for lawyers, expert witnesses, trial consultants and others. But it would not do much for retired players and their families who are in need. This resolution allows the sides to join together, do something constructive, and build a better game for the future. Both sides faced major risks and uncertainties that made a class settlement far and away the best path for resolving these issues.
Will this prevent other lawsuits of this nature from being filed? For a variety of reasons, the underlying theory of this lawsuit about what took place in the past would be difficult to replicate in the future. Everyone now has a much deeper and more substantial understanding about concussions, and how to prevent and manage them, than they did 20 or even 10 years ago, and the information conveyed to players reflects that greater understanding. In addition, the labor law defenses asserted by the NFL would represent a very substantial barrier to asserting these kinds of claims going forward. The combination of advances in medical research, improved equipment, rules changes, greater understanding of concussion management, and enhanced benefits should, and hopefully will, prevent similar lawsuits in the future.
What should parents of kids who play football take from this settlement? Parents should know that the NFL and the plaintiffs are committed to doing what's right for the game and making it safer at all levels. The proposed settlement includes funds for medical research and education to support those goals.