Judge Brody Rejects NFL Settlement Agreement

I’ve been following with fascination the overwhelming evidence about brain injuries caused by football. On the one hand, I believe in individual autonomy. On the other hand, I’m not really a fan of football. But I also don’t favor paternalistic policies that limit individuals from undertaking calculated risks. And yet, what about undisclosed risks?

All of that and more is at issue in the complaint brought by over 4,500 former football players who sued the National Football League for damages arising from their injuries. The complaints were consolidated before U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia. The players claim that the NFL was negligent in failing to inform players of the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries, including early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia. They claim the NFL knew about these neurological impairments as early as the 1970s and didn’t take any steps to redress these issues until 1994.

On Tuesday, Judge Brody took the unusual step of a issuing a preliminary rejection of the “$760 million over a period of 20 years” reached between the players and the NFL, asking for more detailed financial information, and stating that:

“Judicial review must be exacting and thorough. The task is demanding because the adversariness of litigation is often lost after the agreement to settle….

…I am primarily concerned that not all Retired NFL Football Players who ultimately receive a Qualifying Diagnosis or their related claimants will be paid. The Settlement fixes the size of the Monetary Award Fund. It also fixes the Monetary Award level for each Qualifying Diagnosis, subject to a variety of offsets. In various hypothetical scenarios, the Monetary Award Fund may lack the necessary funds to pay Monetary Awards for Qualifying Diagnoses. … it is difficult to see how the Monetary Award Fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels….

I will deny the Motion for Preliminary Approval and Class Certification without prejudice. As a first step toward preliminary approval, I will order the parties to share the documentation referred to in their submissions with the Court through the Special Master.”

It’s quite unusual to deny a motion for preliminary approval. I’ll be following this one closely…