The estate of NFL Hall of Fame center Mike Webster is entitled to collect more than $1.5 million in disability benefits because brain damage left him unable to work after his football career.
The unanimous decision Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Baltimore judge's order that the NFL pay Webster's estate benefits retroactive to the date of his retirement, plus interest and legal fees. The amount is about $1.5 million to $2 million, the estate's lawyers said.
The court said the board that administers NFL players' retirement and disability plans ignored overwhelming evidence that the pounding Webster absorbed during his 16-year career left him permanently disabled when he retired in March 1991.
Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, died in 2002 at age 50.
"The main thing this would mean to my dad is vindication for all he went through," said Garrett Webster, 22, who will share the benefits with his three siblings and their mother.
A lawyer for the estate said the ruling also gives hope to other NFL players fighting for benefits.
"We're happy first of all for Mike's family," said attorney Cy Smith of Baltimore. " ... We're also happy for other players that got a raw deal from the NFL pension plan."
Edward Scallet, a lawyer for the NFL's pension board, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said no decision has been made regarding an appeal.