VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — A lawyer who filed the first concussion lawsuit against the NFL believes the proposed $765 million settlement will go through, and lead to payments to injured players within 18 months.
The deal could be nixed if too many ex-players opt out to sue individually.
But Philadelphia lawyer Sol Weiss, speaking at Villanova Law School on Thursday, says they would face an uphill battle in court. He thinks most will accept the deal.
“Overwhelmingly, our clients are very supportive of the settlement, very grateful. A lot of these players had a very glamorous life, they were pro athletes. (Now), they can’t work. … Their families are desperate.”
Addressing criticism that the NFL, with more than $9 billion in revenues, got off lightly, he said time was of the essence for many of the families. Protracted litigation could have taken years, and left some players with nothing, if the judge threw out the case or they couldn’t prove their conditions were caused by their years in the NFL.
“People say you only got $765 million. I’d rather have that than $1.5 billion, 10 years down the road,” Weiss said.
The awards could reach $5 million for athletes with Lou Gehrig’s disease and $3 million for dementia cases, and includes medical testing for those without symptoms. The money is expected to last for at least 65 years, according to actuarial and medical experts. About 19,000 retired players would be eligible to seek awards or medical testing, but current players are not part of the deal.
Asked if he thinks parents should let youngsters play, Weiss noted that Kevin Turner, a former Philadelphia Eagle battling ALS, made his son wait until high school to play football. The decision was difficult, he said.
“It’s sad to see Kevin deteriorate,” Weiss said. “Kevin’s having a hard time speaking. Yet he’s out there every day, supporting his son.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody must still approve the settlement, which was reached last month.
Weiss says Brody brought in a mediator only after a year of negotiations between the lawyers and the NFL failed to produce an agreement. The proposed settlement, reached late last month, also calls for the NFL to pay the players’ legal fees in addition to the $765 million fund.
The rule changes that have ensued since the lawsuit was filed two years ago, and the science that’s emerged linking concussions to brain injuries, only help the game, he said.
“It doesn’t mean the end of football. Football will still be around, and it will be exciting. But they’re going to teach kids at a young age how to tackle, or not to tackle with their head,” Weiss said.
“Any sport where you can have a concussion, I think the game will be safer for all the participants,” Weiss said.
He also mentioned lead plaintiff Ray Easterling, the former Atlanta Falcons player who committed suicide since filing the lawsuit two years ago. His widow remains a plaintiff.
“He had a horrible 10 years before he committed suicide,” Weiss said.