PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Lawyers for the NFL and a class of retired players defended a proposed multimillion-dollar settlement for concussions sustained while playing football during a court hearing on Wednesday, while critics called the deal inadequate.
Most of the 20,000 former players involved in the class-action lawsuit back the deal, which provides payments of up to $5 million to those with the most serious neurological impairments.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who granted preliminary approval to the deal in June after the National Football League agreed to remove a $675 million cap on payments, presided over the daylong hearing and will decide if the settlement is fair.
Brody can approve the deal, demand revisions, or reject it, which would require the lawyers to rework it from a blank slate.
Brad Karp, a lawyer representing the NFL, said the settlement provided prompt payments to players while avoiding costly litigation that could last years and might leave players empty-handed.
“The league could have fought these claims, in my view, for many, many years,” Karp said.
The deal has its critics, in part, over how it treats players with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, one of the most common neurological disorders suffered by football players.
The proposed settlement calls for the NFL to pay $4 million to the families of those who died from CTE before July 7, 2014. Those diagnosed afterward would receive nothing.
Steven Molo, who represents a group of players who oppose the deal, said the settlement released the NFL from potentially billions of dollars in claims without acknowledging when it knew about the possibly life-altering danger of concussions.
He also faulted the settlement for failing to cover future CTE deaths.
Chris Seeger, the lead lawyer for players who want the deal approved, said objections based on CTE compensation had been misleading.
Seeger said the settlement “maybe isn’t perfect but it is really good and clearly fair.”
Former Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht was the only former player to speak at the hearing. Utecht played with the Colts during their 2006 Super Bowl win but left the game after getting knocked unconscious in training camp.
Utecht feared the 65-year settlement could run out of money before he collected. “I’m 33 years old, and I suffer from memory problems,” he said.
Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Will Dunham, Bill Trott and Jim Loney