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Appeals court upholds NFL concussion settlement

Kevin Turner, a former NFL and University of

Kevin Turner, a former NFL and University of Alabama player, has died after battling Lou Gehrig's disease, his father said in a statement Thursday, March 24, 2016. He was 46. Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

The nearly $1-billion settlement reached by the NFL and more than 5,000 players who sued the league over concussions took a major step forward Monday. A federal appeals court upheld the deal after a group of players challenged the initial agreement because it didn’t go far enough and didn’t take into account possible future cases of the degenerative neurological disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“It is the nature of a settlement that some will be dissatisfied with the ultimate result. Our case is no different, and we do not doubt that objectors are well intentioned in making thoughtful arguments against certification of the class and approval of this settlement,” according to the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a copy of which was obtained by Newsday. “But they risk making the perfect the enemy of the good. This settlement will provide nearly $1 billion in value to the class of retired players. It is a testament to the players, researchers and advocates who have worked to expose the true human costs of a sport so many love. Though not perfect, it is fair.”

The net effect of the ruling means that benefits soon may be paid to former players who have suffered from degenerative neurological conditions, many of them caused by repeated head trauma suffered during their professional, college and/or youth football careers. Although the NFL is admitting no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, benefits cover more than 20,000 former players.

“The National Football League has agreed to resolve lawsuits brought by former players who alleged that the NFL failed to inform them of and protect them from the risks of concussions in football,” according to the ruling. “The District Court approved a class-action settlement that covered over 20,000 retired players and released all concussion-related claims against the NFL. Objectors have appealed that decision, arguing that class certification was improper and that the settlement was unfair. But after thorough review, we conclude that the District Court was right to certify the class and approve settlement. Thus we affirm its decision in full.”

The decision comes less than a month after former Eagles fullback Kevin Turner, one of the plaintiffs representing former players who sued the NFL, died from complications of ALS. Turner has been replaced in the settlement agreement by his father, Paul Raymond Turner.

“We are now one step closer to getting help that retired NFL players desperately need,” Turner said. “I wish Kevin was here to learn the news. I know he would have been elated with the Third Circuit’s decision, because he fought to bravely on behalf of his fellow NFL alumni.”

Turner expressed hope the court’s decision would be accepted by those who filed the appeal.

“We hope the appellants will consider the over 20,000 retired players and their families that support this agreement before filing additional appeals, so we can finally start helping those in need,” he said.

Said Christopher Seeger, the plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel in the concussion lawsuit: “This extraordinary settlement’s implementation has been delayed enough by this small group of objectors, whose arguments have been exhaustively examined and overruled by both the District Court and the Third Circuit. This agreement helps retired players and their families. This is why over 99 percent of the retired player community supports this agreement as well.”

The NFL and former players suing the league initially agreed to a $765-million settlement in August 2013. However, a federal judge overseeing the case ordered the league to provide more funding for benefits, and the two sides eventually agreed on a deal worth nearly $1 billion. As part of that agreement, the league removed financial limits on certain claims for a period of 65 years. The settlement covers former players who don’t have symptoms associated with concussions or repeated head trauma but may develop problems later.

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