The settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, was announced Thursday after months of court-ordered mediation. It came just days before the first game of the 2013 season, removing a major legal and financial threat hanging over the NFL.
The league agreed to pay $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation and a program of medical research as well as to cover some legal expenses, according to a filing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The settlement will be seen as a victory for the league, which has nearly $10 billion in annual revenue and faced the possibility of billions of dollars in liability payments and a discovery phase that could have proved damaging if the case had moved forward.
More than 4,500 former athletes – some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer’s that they blamed on blows to the head – have sued the NFL since the first case was filed in Philadelphia in 2011. They accused the league of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field, while glorifying and profiting from the game’s violence.
“This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players,” Jeffrey Pash, a league vice president, said in an e-mailed statement.
Maximum awards would include $5 million for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and $3 million for dementia, Christopher Seeger, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, said in a statement on the league’s website, nfl.com.
The settlement requires players to have completed five NFL seasons to receive full recoveries, a person familiar with the accord said. Players with fewer years can claim discounted recoveries, the person said, requesting anonymity because the information wasn’t public.
The settlement spares the league from revealing all its records related to brain injuries in players, which likely would have come out had the case gone to trial, writes Reuters.
“It would certainly seem to be fair financial terms to the NFL as an enterprise, especially given how difficult this lawsuit has been from a PR and perception viewpoint on both the NFL and the sport of football,” said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University. “This is a very positive end for the NFL.”
The league has changed its rules to make the game safer and modified its medical protocols for concussions as mounting scientific evidence in recent years linked head trauma sustained on the field to long-term cognitive damage. Among the terms of the agreement is that the settlement is not to be regarded as an admission of guilt by the league, says the NY Times. The NFL admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.
Layn Phillips, a former U.S. District judge who mediated the settlement, said in a statement that it would “provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed,” while avoiding a long legal process.
“This settlement is a very important step for ensuring that future generations of football players do not suffer the same way that many in my generation have,” said Kevin Turner, an NFL running back in the 1990s and a lead plaintiff who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.