NFL concussion lawsuits back in court next month

By Maryclaire Dale ,AP

The NFL concussion litigation is set to heat up again early next month, days before the regular season gets underway.

More than 4,000 former players are suing the league over claims the NFL hid known concussion risks, leading to high rates of dementia, depression and even suicides.

Some believe the players’ claims could be worth US$1 billion or more if they move forward in court. They range from the deaths of players like Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and lead plaintiff Ray Easterling to the medical care of players with disabling dementia to lifelong medical monitoring for those who are now symptom-free.

Former Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levens, after oral arguments in the case in April, said he signed on to the litigation on behalf of “all the nameless, faceless guys that are suffering that you never heard of, … and people who have lost their lives, and the guys who are playing now, who are not really aware of the long-term ramifications of all these repeated head blows.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, of Philadelphia, had been ready to rule in July whether some or all of the players could pursue their claims in federal court. But she instead ordered the two sides to try to negotiate that issue and perhaps others, and report back to her by Sept. 3.

The season opens on Sept. 5 with Denver hosting Super Bowl champion Baltimore.

Sports law experts believe it’s too early to expect a settlement because the two sides have not yet begun discovery, when they take depositions and exchange evidence.

“I think it’s very unlikely that mediation will work at this stage,” said sports law professor Marc Edelman of Baruch College. “Often times in class-action litigation, settlement occurs during or after the discovery.”

A gag order prevents either side from commenting on the negotiations, which are being led by federal judge-turned-mediator Layne Phillips of Newport Beach, California.

The NFL calls player safety a top priority, but insists that claims should be handled through league arbitration, in accord with the collective bargaining agreement.