The start of 2016 saw a milestone for the NFL, with the league celebrating its 50th Super Bowl in February. More importantly, though, the new year marked a change in tone for the league on a safety issue that is reshaping the game.
A month after the Super Bowl, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety admitted in a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill that there exists a link between concussions on the field and degenerative brain diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which has been found in many retired players.
While the NFL had for years denied this link, it was not news to Tom Girardi, who helped file the first concussion-related lawsuit against the NFL in July 2011 on behalf of 75 former players. Among its charges, the suit alleged that the league had fraudulently concealed the long-term effects of head impacts in football.
“I love football,” Girardi says, “but when we have players who can’t remember the names of their children, there are clearly bigger issues at stake, and it’s the NFL’s responsibility to address them.”
Several more actions were soon filed against the NFL, and claims eventually grew to include more than 4,500 retired players. As a result, all actions were consolidated into a multidistrict litigation, with Girardi | Keese — led by Girardi, Christopher Aumais, and Nicole DeVanon — representing a large number of the retired players.
“We found that not only had football caused sometimes severe brain damage in players, but that the NFL and helmet maker, Riddell, knew of these injuries for decades and hid them from players so that they could continue to reap enormous profits,” Girardi says. “In the end, the NFL’s actions weren’t so different from those taken by the tobacco, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries to cover up dangerous products for their own gain.”
In Girardi’s view, this cover-up has been just as destructive as those carried out in other industries: The thousands of former players involved in the litigation suffer from a range of illnesses, including memory loss and cognitive impairment, intermittent rage, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, and in some cases early onset Alzheimer’s. “You have star athletes, whose names we all know, who can no longer remember their own name,” Girardi notes.
In August 2013, two years after the first lawsuit was filed, the NFL finally agreed to a settlement, which included $765 million to fund medical exams and provide compensation for the players. The settlement was later amended in early 2015 to make it more favorable to the players, and two months later it was approved by the court.
“This final settlement consists of an uncapped monetary award fund for the retired players who submit proof of cognitive impairment; a $75 million assessment program to provide retired players with a free examination of their neurological functioning; and an education fund to promote injury prevention, as well as to apprise players of their medical and disability benefits,” Aumais explains.
Girardi | Keese represents a large number of former players who are qualified to damages pursuant to the settlement agreement. It is currently helping clients move through the claims process so that they can receive fair and just compensation for their injuries.