NFL CONCUSSION LAWSUIT
In 2002, Bennet Omalu discovered a neurological disease with long-term effects in an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. Omalu labeled the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and attributed its cause to repeated blows to the head.
CTE, as it is commonly called, is a degenerative disease of the brain that includes symptoms as severe as dementia and depression or suicidal tendencies. It is not a disease that is genetic; rather it is the long-term effects of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury referred to as a concussion. With the help of a fellow neurologist and the country coroner where Omalu worked, he published a paper in 2005 based on his findings and later submitted it to the NFL where it was staunchly dismissed in 2006 by the committee that handles mild brain injuries in the NFL.
Over the next several years Omalu studied the deaths of three more former NFL players due to the similarity in symptoms that led up to their death. Omalu concluded that their symptoms clearly indicated that they also suffered from CTE and that it could have been responsible for their death. NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell was finally persuaded in 2007 by Omalu to present his report to the NFL committee on player safety. Omalu wasn’t taken seriously by the committee and was not even allowed in the proceedings; rather his report was presented by a third party chosen by the committee instead. The NFL, however, instituted a formal concussion guideline a litte over a month later to address better the issue during and after a head injury.
Despite being dismissed by the NFL, Omalu’s reports helped to spur Congress to hold hearings on the issue in 2009. He was eventually publicly vindicated in 2011 when Dave Duerson, the former executive of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), committed suicide and left a note behind admitting Omalu’s findings to be true. Duerson purposely ended his life in a way that preserved his brain, so it could be studied for CTE as his letter proclaimed. This event among other instances of CTE symptoms and deaths in other retired players led to the first major class action lawsuit filed on June 7, 2012, against the NFL due to concussions suffered by eighty plaintiffs party to the suit.
This backstory is important because if not for Omalu and his diligence in researching this common issue, the NFL Concussion Lawsuit might not have ever made it to court. CTE was not even a term before Omalu brought light to the disease. Fast forward to August of 2013 and the lawsuit which had grown to 4,500 plaintiffs resulted in a $765 million settlement between the NFL and the plaintiffs.
The litigation process continued however, as a judge in January 2014 refused the settlement deeming the amount of compensation was not enough. A final settlement was eventually agreed upon on April 22nd of last year that will span the next 65 years. This agreement will cost the NFL an estimated $900 million or more depending on circumstances. It includes both monetary awards and coverage for medical treatment and rehabilitation as well as attorneys fees.
Many feel the NFL came away without having to admit liability or overturn any legal precedent they had in their favor. Critics of the settlement have asserted that while the players will finally receive benefits, it is more a “better than nothing” solution that excluded many victims rather than a fair and just one. Overall, however, it seems a majority of the retired players community approves, as player participation in the program has peaked over 99%.