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Lawyer defends NFL concussion lawsuit payment process

The former players accuse the NFL of stalling payments through appeals and audits

Co-lead players' lawyer Christopher Seeger, left, and client

Co-lead players' lawyer Christopher Seeger, left, and client former NFL player Shawn Wooden speak with members of the media after a hearing on the proposed NFL concussion settlement Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, outside of the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

The attorney representing retired players accusing the National Football League of delaying concussion settlement payments defended the NFL’s handling of the settlement process in federal court on Monday.

“All settlements have growing pains,” attorney Christopher Seeger said. “None of them are perfect. This one is performing really, really well,”

In interviews with Newsday, former players such as former Jet Mark Gastineau and former Giant Leonard Marshall said the NFL was dragging out the payment process through appeals and audits and questioned if Seeger was doing enough to get the former players their money.

Seeger, speaking Monday before U.S. District judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia, attributed the delays to the time spent ferreting out “potentially hundreds” of fraudulent claims that have been filed by some former players in the year since claims were allowed to be filed.

“I think people who have attempted to game the system have to take some responsibility for the delay that was caused in sorting out the potential fraud problem,” Seeger said in court. “If the fraudulent claims were paid out, you’re talking more than one billion dollars.”

The NFL, in comments published Sunday, defended its actions under the settlement, saying, “it is entirely appropriate to continue to oppose fraudulent and unsupported claims.” The settlement agreement gives the NFL the right to fight claims.

Seeger said the first settlement agreement reached in 2014 did not give the league that ability, but the judge declined to approve that agreement, citing concerns that the $765 million hard cap on the settlement wouldn’t provide the players enough money.

So the NFL and the attorney for the players came up a new settlement without a cap; it’s generally referred to as a $1 billion settlement because that’s what the two sides have estimated it will cost over time. Because it’s uncapped, Seeger said “we had to put some protections in place that the NFL felt was important regarding fraud.”

Thus, the NFL’s ability to question and fight claims.

“They have an interest now,” judge Brody said. “Let’s be very clear. If it’s a capped settlement, they put in the money and they don’t care what happens. But the NFL has a legitimate interest, in view of the fact that it’s uncapped, to challenge any request that may be fraudulent.”

Seeger said the court-appointed claims administrator uses “analytics that were designed to catch what would be fraud.” He said that system “surprisingly slowed down the settlement early on because it dragged hundreds of claims that were potentially fraudulent.”

Seeger did not address the recent court filings by players and their attorneys questioning whether he is doing enough to stand up to the NFL. Those filings ask judge Brody to appoint another firm that represents 1,100 players to have the same “rights and duties” as Seeger. The judge gave Seeger until April 13 to respond to the filings.

As of Monday, the NFL has paid $150 million to 183 claims, according to nflconcussionsettlement.com.

Another 186 claims for $251.9 million have been approved, but those claims are currently either being appealed, audited or awaiting the processing of payment.

New York Sports