Pennsylvania readers are probably aware that the topic of head injuries has been an important issue in professional football in recent years. Much of this is because, although the evidence has been mounting for years that football players are more at risk for long-term brain damages due to repeated head injuries, it was only in the last handful of years that the National Football League has clearly admitted the risk to players and taken sincere steps to address it.
A good deal of litigation has been ongoing, as well, with respect to the league’s hesitancy to tackle the issue head on. At present, the estates of former football players are seeking as much as $4 million from the league in connection with deceased players who were diagnosed with long-term brain damage between 2006 and 2014 from their time in football. By way of projection, the NFL says that around 28 percent of nearly 20,000 retired football players will someday suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia due to repeated head injuries.
At present, the league is poised to put an end to the litigation with a roughly $1 billion settlement. At the heart of the litigation are allegations that the league withheld information regarding the negative consequences of repeated head injuries, yet did little to nothing to protect players from these risks. It isn't clear yet whether the settlement will go through. One of the concerns is that the settlement may leave out other former football players or their survivors who aren't participating in the litigation for whatever reason.
Although the league is pushing to settle the matter, its legal team has argued that the dispute should, by contract, be handled in mediation. Contractual agreements to settle disputes in mediation or arbitration, of course, are not necessarily ironclad, and it is important to be clear about the conditions under which such contractual clauses are likely to be enforced by courts and how mediation agreements, when reached, are handled by courts. In a future post, we’ll talk a bit about these issues.
Reflector.com, “Judge asked to approve concussion deal,” Maryclaire Dale, Nov. 19, 2014.
The New York Times, N.F.L. Acknowledges Long-Term Concussion Effects,” Alan Schwarz, Dec. 20, 2009.