THE NFL PLAYERS’ LAWSUIT EXPLAINED

This is a short and sweet explanation of what’s going on with the former NFL players suing the league for problems caused by concussions.

 

What’s Really Going on in the NFL Head-Injury Lawsuit?

Media outlets are reporting as news that some 2,000 ex-NFL players are suing the league over concussions. But it isn’t really news. So what’s really going on?

Pending before the Honorable Anita B. Brody in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania are at least 60 lawsuits concerning a single subject: whether the National Football League is liable for injuries that players sustain while playing professional football and, particularly, for the long-term effects of concussions.

How did they all get before Judge Brody? Sometimes, a large number of people file very similar lawsuits all around the same time. Generally plaintiffs aren’t required to sue together, so they often file separately. Federal law allows similar cases to be grouped together in something called multidistrict litigation (MDL). A group of judges known as the judicial panel on multidistrict litigation (JPML) decide whether or not to group similar cases together. If the cases have a lot of common factual issues and might see a more efficient outcome if they were grouped together, the panel can transfer the case to a single federal judge for pretrial matters. After all the pretrial matters, like motions to dismiss and discovery, are complete, and if the cases haven’t settled, they’re transferred for trial back to the federal court where each was filed.

In February 2012, the JPML approved an MDL for what in a brief order it called In reNational Football League Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation. And Judge Brody asked the parties to file a “master complaint.”

Each individual case filed has its own complaint, and with 60 or more lawsuits pending, that’s 60 or more complaints to worry about. In complex cases, it’s not uncommon for a federal judge to ask the plaintiffs to file a consolidated complaint, which will streamline the litigation. That way, going forward in a case like this, the NFL as a defendant knows what evidence it has to disclose based on just one set of allegations, and the court can more easily manage the case.

Today, the plaintiffs filed an 88-page master complaint. Most of the counts are against the NFL; a few are against helmet maker Riddell. According to the court, the NFL will have until August 9 to file a motion to dismiss; a decision on that likely won’t be reached until 2013.

Will the plaintiffs succeed? Maybe. In litigation, it’s usually too early to have much certainty when all we have are the allegations that each side trades. Maybe the NFL knew about the long-term effects of concussions on players and kept quiet — that would be similar to the allegations made against the tobacco industry years ago. Or maybe the NFL did its best with the science it had, and the former players are upset that their labor contracts didn’t include enough post-career provision for them.

But one thing is almost certain: These claims will probably settle in the years ahead. The NFL doesn’t want a long public trial showing the grim realities of concussions and head injuries, and the players don’t want to risk that they could be left without any compensation. As to how soon it settles depends on how quickly Judge Brody urges the litigation along.

— Derek T. Muller is associate professor law at Pepperdine University.

  • Turk182

    What’s most amazing about this is that the article actually feels the need to illustrate what a class action lawsuit is….but, then again, considering the stupidity of NFL fans I guess that explanation was necessary.

  • Matt

    Hopefully they set up a fund to pay for the older players care rather than just hand out money. Prior to about 3-4 years ago most of these lawsuits were filed by players who had lost all their money. The union should have fought for this long ago.

  • a-dawg

    For those who seek glory sometimes have to pay a price.

    I don’t feel sorry for the players. They knew what they were signing up for when they strapped on the pads. They sought glory and riches – and now want to squeeze the league for more money. I feel bad that they have problems…but that is their tough luck for playing pro football. It is a violent sport. They should have been a mailman or a grocery clerk if they were worried about longevity.

    They weren’t forced to play football. And some occupations are hazzardous. Look at the crab fishermen off the coast of Alaska. Why do they make $50,000 in 2 weeks. Cause its freaking DANGEROUS!!!

    • Mike from Boston

      I agree with you, to a point. I don’t really have much sympathy for blockhead jocks who put fortune and glory above an education or a less glamorous job.

      I tend to presume that the increased awareness about the danger of concussions and high-speed, high-impact sports has more to do with advancements in research rather than a pro league hiding the facts. However, if this lawsuit reveals that the NFL was covering up the real danger of head contact, then I do think that older players who weren’t privy to better protection or better education about the risks they were taking do deserve some compensation from the league.

      More likely though the NFL and the suing players will settle out of court. The settlement will be an amount of money that seems huge to us normal folks, but in the long run won’t really make a huge difference in the lives of the players, especially those with brain damage or other long term medical needs.

      • Mike V

        Good post Boston. The NFL should settle a class action case asap. They need to find a friendly Federal judge in NY asap and get it moving. This is no different than an asbestos case where a company that manufactured asbestos containing materials settles a case and a Federal judge creates a type of trust that handles the payments to the damaged parties. The company (It would be the NFL in this case.) makes a one time lump sum to the trust and when the money is gone, it is gone. USG did this years ago and they have performed great since the danger of endless cases was eliminated. Another company administers the trust and is paid from the trust itself. The players are getting in line right now for when this happens. The sooner you get in line, the more money you get. As the trust gets smaller, the payments get smaller. As the trust gets smaller, there are fewer cases because the lawyers won’t be able to make money in cases.

        Is this right or wrong? I don’t know, but it is how the legal system works and is a legal remedy in cases such as this. The NFL should jump on board asap. There is no reason to fight because they are going to lose; and if they lose, they will get hammered financially worse than if they didn’t. They also need to get this issue out of the media. There will be short term pain, but it will be worth it in the long run.

      • a-dawg

        The NFL didn’t start studying head injuries until 1994. So everyone that played beforehand is out of luck concerning the “hiding data” theory. Older players are just making a money grab cause they are living in mansons and driving Caddys.

    • Bobzilla

      I’d feel a lot more sorry if there were actual proof that the plaintiffs are in fact actually damaged.
      Watching Jim McMahon on ESPN saying he has short-term memory-loss just isn’t enough proof, at least not for me.
      If my 28-year-old son suddenly misplaces his car keys, should he sue the school district because he was never told about the hazzards of playing scholastic football?

    • Mike V

      Crabbers don’t have other people trying to hurt them because they are so loaded up on steroids they can’t grasp any reality. Football is a physical game, not violent. When violence becomes the accepted norm of a sport, it becomes cockfighting. Everyone has the right to work in an environment made to be as safe as possible. Football really isn’t providing that to the employees.

      • Bobzilla

        Everyone has a “right” not to work in an alleged unsafe environment. I’ve heard zero current players protest that they are in danger. The squawking is being done by former players, 78 percent of whom are either in bankruptcy or financial trouble two years after leaving football.
        USA Today a month ago published a report that pro football players actually live longer than the average man.
        Your allegation that players “are so loaded up with steroids they can’ grasp reality” is merely your unsubstantiated opinion, to which you are entitled.
        But before the NFL is brought to its knees by political correctness, I think there ought to be some hard evidence that the plantiffs have in fact been damaged.
        PRO football is a violent game. A cockfight is a fight-to-the-death. The two should never be compared.
        Go watch the MMA, UFC. Start worrying about and protesting againt real brutality.

        • Mike V

          I played with players loaded up on steroids in the 80s. It hasn’t gotten any better. Roids cause mental issues. It’s obvious they are taking PEDs by looking at them.

          If I was the NFL, I’d be worried about the cold hard evidence that might be found. They are better off settling out of court in a class action law suit than going to the mat on this one. They are going to lose because of the facts. They know the facts and don’t want them to come out. This has noting to do with political correctness and everything to do with money. The NFL will lose the cases and it will cost them a fortune if they don’t settle.

          People who want football to be a violent sport have the same mentality as those who like cockfighting, or they are not good at selecting their words. Football is a physical game, not violent. I don’t like the comparison either, but it is all how people look at it. People who want it violent are usually those who never played or don’t understand English.

      • a-dawg

        People elect to play pro football – knowing full well the dangers and potential outcome of the game. If you are worried about workplace safety, DON’T PLAY PRO FOOTBALL. We’re not talking about a normal occupation here.

        • Bobzilla

          Players were loaded up with steroids at … Toledo? Powerhouse Toledo? In the irrelevelent MAC, which was even more irrelevent in the ’80s?
          Wow!!!
          You should’ve picked a more kinder, gentler place to play irrelevent college football.

          • John Steigerwald

            About 15 years ago there was a major steroid scandal at W&J. Most of their offensive line were major juicers.

          • Mike V

            Didn’t Toledo beat Pitt and with all of their mighty western PA talent not that long ago? I guess that makes it better than the Big East.

          • Bobzilla

            Stick to cockfighting.

          • Dan

            Bob, your ignorance and lakc of respect toward’s Mike’s perspective as a football player who witnessed steroid abuse (he really claimed nothing more than that, he’s not here bragging about his achievements) shows a total lack of class. You’re making yourself look like a blithering fool with blinders on.

            And yes, Mike, Toledo did beat Pitt. I remember the game well. Gradkowski was the QB and lit them up. That Pitt team was loaded with talent, too. http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=232632649

          • Bobzilla

            Dan: I couldn’t care less what I look like to you.
            Are you two related?
            How do you suppose that I happen to know that your sister played football at Toledo?
            While you were somewhere trying to unsuccessfuly conduct a sports blog, Mike V. was busy filling us all in on his Al Bundy-like college career.
            Now you’re up to speed.
            Pretty soon, he’ll be telling us that only politicians are qualified to vote in elections…

        • Dan

          I’d ask you WHAT the hell you’re talking about but I just don’t care.

  • JimGott

    -STEROIDS STEROIDS STEROIDS! THE central driving force for all of these problems.

    -I’m all for the weight limit idea. Impose weight limits by position and harsh penalties for violations.

    • Mike V

      Have a real PED policy and weights will come down.

      • Bobzilla

        Muscle weighs more than fat. As long as players keep pumping iron 12 hours a day, they will continue to be big and strong.
        As long as Casey Hampton and those of his ilk, namely the Steelers’ entire O-line, keep eating mountains of cheeseburgers and fries, they will continue to be slow, fat and injury prone.

        • John Steigerwald

          Muscle has always weighed more than fat. Steroids are the only way a human can gain 40 pounds of pure muscle. A good sign of a steroid user is torn biceps, torn pecs and torn Achilles.

          • Bobzilla

            Better tackling techinques would reduce injuries tremendously in the NFL.
            I never once saw Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell or Mel Blount launch themselves at a ballcarrier. They hit, wrapped and tackled. Pretty simple.

          • John Steigerwald

            Put one bar face masks on them and they’d start tackling like Sam Huff

  • keith colvin

    Players are “bigger,stronger,and faster”. Take away the facemask, and artifical turf. The problem would be greatly minimized.

    • Mike V

      I always laugh at the “facemask” argument because it only assumes it will stop a player from leading with his head. Players who tend to get knocked out, typically don’t see it coming. It’s not about the person doing the hitting, it’s about the person getting hit. Nobody ever talks about the vast number of cheap shots people will take into the unprotected faces of other players when they can’t see the shots coming. It’s such a stupid argument I can’t believe anyone ever brings it up.

      The answer to “bigger, stronger, and faster” is a real PED policy in the NFL. The players will shrink down to their natural sizes. This is not a facemask issue. It is a PED issue.

      • John Steigerwald

        Take away the bird cage and they will NOT be as inclined to launch themselves head first. Jpe Paterno, Chuck Klausing and Ike Taylor believe(d) so.

        • Mike V

          Do you really think Ike Taylor doesn’t want a facemask on his helmet? It’s an easy thing to say, but nobody really wants it.

          Ok, so they don’t launch themselves head first into someone. Then they launch themselves shoulder first into the unprotected face of another player. The argument for not having facemaskes is just plain stupid and looks past the real problem, which is PEDs.

          • John Steigerwald

            It’s not stupid. It’s common sense. It’s a combination of players who have gotten too big feeling invulnerable. You trade broken noses, fat lips and missing teeth for life threatening and life altering head injuries.

          • Mike V

            Common sense used to be the sun circled the Earth. Common sense assumes most of the players have a great deal of sense…you have been around them long enough to know that isn’t true. This is pure science. Players get smaller and the hits aren’t as great.

          • John Steigerwald

            I agree with you that PEDs are the biggest problem. Face masks that give them a sense of invulnerability add to the problem by ENCOURAGING the use of the helmet as a weapon.

      • Bobzilla

        There are more former defensive players waiting in line to sue the NFL than there are former offensive players.
        Players aren’t about to “shrink down to their natural sizes” until they remove the gyms they’ve added to their homes. Vigorious weight training and strict diets are just as responsible as PEDs to the size of today’s players.
        If you think for a second that all any player has to do is inject some ‘roids and then watch their muscles grow instantly, you would be wrong.

        • John Steigerwald

          Weighyt training and strict diets are a part of if but the ridicuouls size, speed and strength of current players is UNNATURAL. PEDs are mainly responsible for their size.

        • Mike V

          The PEDs allow them faster recovery time so they can use their workout rooms day and night. The players will still be in great shape. The difference will be they will be bench pressing 400 instead of 550 and they will weigh 265 instead of 310.

          • Bobzilla

            You actually believe weighing 265 rather than 310 will soften the blows? Really? That’s astounding.
            And just how many of those so-called 310-pounders are bashing defenseless 200-pound wide receivers you are so worried about? Levon Kirkland is no longer in the league…
            The three-hundred-pound players are in the trenches, occupying space. They are going up against other 300-pound players. Sounds like a fair fight to me.
            Most of today’s O-linemen have bellies that hang down to their knees. That’s hardly being in “great shape.”
            Meanwhile, the players you want outlawed from the league are the world-class athletes who are actually gym rats and have 1 percent body fat.
            Pro football is a full-time job, a profession that’s played by dedicated full-time athletes.

          • John Steigerwald

            It’s not the 320 pound offensive linemen with 58 inch waists. It’s 265 pound DEs and LBS who should way 215-220 running 4.5 40s and the 210 pound safeties, who, without PEDs,would weigh 185.

          • Mike V

            Bob,
            Force = Mass x Acceleration. So yes, I not only believe it, I know it to be fact.

          • Bobzilla

            You obviously are way too emotional about this subject to carry on a rational discussion.
            Stick to cockfighting.

    • Niblick

      Better yet is to have the linemen be in an upright position pre-snap of the ball.