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NFL concussion settlement may be short of end zone

A federal judge in Philadelphia approved a $1 billion settlement of the concussion class action lawsuit against the NFL after persuading the league to raise a $765 limit on its settlement fund for player head injuries. However, the family of deceased Chicago Bear and Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson will appeal this settlement because it does not include future awards for brain decay that was diagnosed after the player’s suicide in 2011. Some fear that additional lawsuits could hold up the settlement for a least 1 year.

The judge, after 2 years of negotiations, approved a plan that is intended to monitor over 20,000 NFL retirees over a 65-year period. It will compensate players with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological ailments.

However, the plan will not compensate players with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Many claim that CTE is a common football disease.

The judge ruled that CTE research is in its infancy and that early symptoms such as violence, mood swings and depression alone should not trigger compensation awards. Many athletes that were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or dementia. However, these diseases will be compensated under the settlement.

The judge rejected requests from other NFL families that depression and other behavioral disorders receive compensation. She cited experts who argue that retired NFL players suffer higher rates of sleep apnea, alcohol abuse, high body mass and major lifestyle changes that could lead to a higher risk for mood disorders or suicides.

Other experts argue that these problems are early signs of CTE-related illnesses. Erratic behavior may have been an early sign of CTE in Junior Seau who was the NFL’s 1994 Man of the Year recipient and who committed suicide in 2012. His family will also file their own legal action against the NFL.

The settlement will, however, pay up to $4 million for CTE-related suicides through the April 22 settlement to avoid encouraging future suicides. Players with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can receive a maximum $5 million award.

A serious concussion or a traumatic brain injury pose difficult and important legal and scientific issues. Victims of thee injuries and their families should seek legal assistance as soon as possible to assure that they have the ability to receive compensation.