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NFL Concussion Lawsuits May Turn on Workers' Comp Rules

The pro football league is named as a defendant in 21 suits that allege the league negligently misled at least several hundred players about the dangers of concussions and other head injuries.

February 2, 2012
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The National Football League is expected to use an exclusive remedy defense in liability litigation filed by hundreds of former pro football players who suffer from concussion-related injuries and cognitive disorders.

The NFL is named as a defendant in 21 suits that allege the league negligently misled at least several hundred players about the dangers of concussions and other head injuries. Riddell Inc., the league's official helmet maker, also is named as a defendant in some of the suits.

The lawsuits have been filed in various federal courts, including Atlanta, Miami, New York and Philadelphia.

In Miami recently, a hearing was held to determine whether the concussion cases should be consolidated into multidistrict litigation, and the NFL and some plaintiffs asked for the cases to be heard in Philadelphia. A decision is expected in 30 days, said Richard Lewis, a partner with Hausfeld L.L.P. in Washington.

Additional lawsuits could be filed in the case, said Lewis, whose law firm represents more than 100 former NFL players.

Michael McGlamry, an attorney with Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood P.C. in Atlanta who represents about 50 players, said it's likely that the NFL will argue football players who suffered concussions should be covered solely by provisions of the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Those include workers' compensation, disability benefits and the NFL's 88 Plan, which pays for medical and custodial care of retired NFL players with dementia.

While some players have been able to receive benefits for concussion-related injuries, McGlamry said player attorneys are seeking to prove, in part, that their clients face health problems due to negligence that extended beyond typical workplace hazards.

"I think this is something that you're going to see more and more players become a part of...and I think the general public will be amazed at the numbers of guys that are suffering from these kinds of injuries," McGlamry said.

The NFL declined to comment about the pending lawsuits. In a statement, the league said it "has long made player safety a priority and continues to take steps to protect players and to advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."

"The NFL has never misled players with respect to the risks associated with playing football," the league said in the statement. "Any suggestion to the contrary has no merit."

Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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