NFL Pushes Back on Claim it ‘Rigs’ Concussion Payouts

Steven M. Sellers Washington Legal Editor Steven Patrick Washington

By Steven M. Sellers

The NFL hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain in paying brain injury medical claims contemplated by a $1 billion concussion class settlement, lawyers for thousands of retired players say.

But a lawyer for the league strongly disputed the claims of league manipulation of the settlement’s execution.

Recent court filings vent the frustration of brain-injured players who say they’ve waited far too long for payouts under a settlement once hailed as “a revolutionary compromise and easy to implement.”

Out of nearly 1,100 dementia claims filed by former players, only six have been paid so far, part of the NFL’s efforts “to rig the settlement system,” the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia charged in a March 20 brief.

Those numbers fall far short of league forecasts that 430 dementia claims would be paid by now, and signal that the deal “is in danger of failing in its execution,” the players say.

Payouts for other covered brain disorders are also lagging, according to Locks Law, which represents more than 1,000 retired players in the settlement.

“The suggestion that the NFL is obstructing the claims administration process is demonstrably false,” Brad Karp, of the New York office of the Paul Weiss law firm, told Bloomberg Law March 22. “The NFL does not decide who qualifies for benefits or the amount of any monetary award.”

Locks Law seeks appointment as administrative class counsel, in addition to existing counsel, New York’s Seeger Weiss, “to implement the settlement agreement in a manner consistent with their fiduciary duty to the plaintiff class.”

Concussion litigator Paul Anderson, of the Klamann Law Firm in Kansas City, Mo., told Bloomberg Law March 22 he supported Lock Law’s bid for appointment as administrative class counsel to combat the league’s alleged misconduct.

“The NFL’s conduct is outrageous, contrary to the settlement agreement, and is detrimental to the thousands of retired players that desperately deserve compensation,” said Anderson, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who also authors a blog on the NFL concussion litigation.

“The Court must condemn the NFL’s actions,” Anderson said.

The players say the rub is that the NFL must approve settlement claims processed by a third-party administrator, a process that has resulted in payout to only 7 percent of claimants.

The league’s role has morphed the settlement into a system of “inconsistent and often improper standards of review, a black hole of audits, alleged deficiencies, anonymous opinions, denials, appeals, remands and technical squabbles” that work to delay or prevent payments, the players’ brief states.

Karp strongly disputed that characterization of the settlement process.

The federal district court’s supervision of the settlement’s execution by an independent administrator belies claims that the league controls the process, Karp said. “No legitimate claim has been rejected” and player eligibility and payment decisions are based on “recognized medical criteria set forth in the settlement agreement.”

He added that settlement procedures incorporate anti-fraud provisions required by the settlement, and have resulted in more than $150 million in benefit payments in the year since the settlement was approved.

Those assurances, however, may be unpersuasive for Wayne Radloff, now stricken with dementia after playing for the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers from 1985 to 1990.

Radloff is represented by the Anapol Weiss law firm, which asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania March 19 to intervene in the processing of his and other claims.

“The claims process for Mr. Radloff has evolved into a thicket or privately-litigated, changing standards for claim packages, unpredictable and changing standards of review that is not what the settlement agreement promised retired players,” the brief states.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven M. Sellers in Washington at ssellers@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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