Sports Business

Multibillion-Dollar NFL Concussion Lawsuit Goes to Mediation


Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 8, 2009

Photograph by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 8, 2009

A gridiron truce may be in the offing.

Back before the 2013 Super Bowl, I offered a road map for settling the multibillion-dollar head-injury litigation against the National Football League. The legal uncertainties for both the league and the thousands of former players suing it make compromise the smart course:

Even hypothesizing an impressive-sounding $5 billion settlement, the owners could handle the tab. Paid out over 25 years to cover players’ needs as they arise, such a settlement would work out to $200 million a year. Divide that 32 ways, and each team would face a hit of $6.25 million a year. That would be a meaningful tax—the current salary cap per team for active players is $121 million—but one the franchises could absorb without much distraction, particularly since the money could be paid out in installments.

Maybe I missed on the numbers, but the idea was a touchdown. On Monday, the Philadelphia federal judge presiding over the case, Anita Brody, sent the dispute to mediation. “I held an informal exploratory telephone conference with lead counsel,” Brody wrote in a one-page order. “As a consequence, I ORDER parties, through their lead counsel, to engage in mediation to determine if consensual resolution is possible.”

Brody appointed retired U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips as one mediator and told the league and the players to agree on two others. She ordered Phillips to report back to her by Sept. 3 on the results of the mediation. Brody said that until then, she would not rule on the NFL’s pending motion to dismiss the suit by more than 4,000 former players.

What a gift to football fans it would be if the leaders of our beloved sport could agree on ways to compensate past players suffering the lingering effects of concussions, while also concurring on ways to make the game safer in the future. Football is unavoidably violent. My parents wouldn’t let me play in high school. The game will lead to injuries, including serious head injuries. And yet, players and teams can do more to minimize the damage and ease the consciences of couch potatoes who thrill to the competition (go, Giants!) but hate gratuitous mayhem.

Barrett_190
Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, which tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador, will be published by Crown in September 2014.

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