Federal Judge Rejects The NFL Concussions Settlement

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a preliminary settlement between the National Football League and retired players and their families over concussion-related injuries. The judge doubted that the $765 million settlement would adequately cover all of the retired players potentially eligible to be paid.

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Today in Philadelphia, a federal judge rejected a proposed $765 million settlement between the National Football League and many of its former players. The settlement concerned claims against the league for lingering injuries related to head trauma.

Here to discuss what the ruling means is NPR's Mike Pesca. And, Mike, remind us please where this case stood before the judge rejected it today?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Right. So right before the football season started, the NFL settled with all these players and their families - really close to 5,000 who are suing them - and it was because of all the concussions and all the head trauma; chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And the dollar amount that was affixed to that was somewhere approaching $900 million when you include lawyers' fees and so forth. But there were some details to be ironed out - steps in the process.

Recently, the plaintiffs' lawyers released a calculation of how much everyone would get. And it was based on how long you served, how bad your malady was, how old you are now. So someone with ALS, who played in the league for half a dozen years and is 45, would be getting $5 million and the rewards went down from there. It's all submitted to the judge.

The judge gets to approve this. And it was thought she would approve it because not only had both sides agreed to it, there was a negotiator - a former federal judge - that she appointed who signed off on it. So it was seen as maybe something of more than a formality but less than, you know, less than a big question mark. But she did reject it.

BLOCK: And that's stunning development today. So what did Judge Brody say in her ruling to explain why she rejected the settlement?

PESCA: It was very narrow and very specific. First of all, she noted over and over that with a class-action lawsuit, not only do you have to deal with people who are actually signed on to the lawsuit, you have to deal with everyone in the class. One of the reasons the NFL agreed to this was all the retired players would we be swept up into this, even people who weren't applying for the award.

And she did the math. And she said even though they're about 5,000 players right now who may be eligible for this, there are potentially 20,000 players. And when she did the math about how much money was in the suit, you know, she comes out to maybe at something in like $34,000 per player. She said, I'm not satisfied that that's going to be enough, given how much you say you're going to pay everyone.

She didn't say you're lying, she said you failed to include the documentation. You've indicated that there are experts who say it will be enough, but I don't see those calculations. So if I don't see those calculations, I'm looking out for the people who haven't signed off on this suit - the other players who potentially could be awarded the money. And she said I will not allow this to go forward. You have to go back to the drawing board or at least give me good documentation.

BLOCK: OK. So if they do that what happens then?

PESCA: Right, so that's the question. Perhaps they could just resubmit the studies showing that it will be enough money. Perhaps they can come back with a higher dollar amount. Or maybe both sides will just rip it up and start all over again. You would think that the NFL would not want to do this, right? There's a reason they settled. And one of the reasons is they don't want to have to open their books. Maybe a few million more would make them happy. But right now, we don't know.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Mike Pesca on the news today that a federal judge has rejected settlement between the NFL and retired players. Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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