The Norman Transcript

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January 15, 2014

Drop in the bucket

PHILADELPHIA — A federal judge is slowing down the proposed $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims, questioning if there’s enough money to cover 20,000 retired players.

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody denied preliminary approval of the plan on Tuesday because she’s worried the money could run out sooner than expected. She also raised concerns that anyone who gets concussion damages from the NFL would be barred from suing the NCAA or other amateur football leagues.

“I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid,” the judge wrote.

The proposed settlement, negotiated over several months, is designed to last at least 65 years.

The awards would vary based on an ex-player’s age and diagnosis. A younger retiree with Lou Gehrig’s disease would get $5 million, those with serious dementia cases would get $3 million and an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000. Retirees without symptoms would get baseline screening and follow-up care if needed.

“Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis,” the judge wrote, “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.”

She asked for more raw financial data before scheduling a fairness hearing this year, when objectors can question the plan. The objectors could later decide to opt out of it.

Law professor Gabe Feldman, who directs the sports law program at the Tulane University Law School, called the ruling a setback but said “there’s no reason to panic.”

“The question remains whether this gives pause to some of the retired players and makes them question whether this is a settlement they want to be a part of,” he said.

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