We first mentioned the possibility that repetitive head trauma might cause a form of brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalitis (CTE) over a year ago (see this blog, May 17, 2012). Over a thousand lawsuits had already been filed against the National Football League by former football players, who claimed that their symptoms of brain injuries were caused by repetitive head trauma received during their playing years. At that time the NFL disavowed responsibility but agreed to look into it.
Well, the NFL did look into it, saw the handwriting on the wall, and did the right thing. This week the league settled all the lawsuits at once by agreeing to pay out $765 million over the next 20 years to diagnose and compensate former players who may have suffered brain injury during their playing years. The amounts each player receives will be determined by the player’s age, years of play, and medical condition, but ultimately there’s a cap on the payout to any individual player; $5 million for former players with Alzheimer’s disease, $3 million for dementia, and $4 million to the estate of players diagnosed after their deaths with CTE, which can only be diagnosed by examining the brain after death.
And what does the NFL gain, other than goodwill? The league does not have to reveal what it knew about a causal link between repetitive head trauma and CTE and when it knew it. In other words, it does not have to admit wrongdoing. Fair trade? You decide.
As a result of what we now know about repetitive brain injury and CTE, the NFL has instituted rule changes designed to prevent head injuries from occurring in the first place, and to prevent players who have been injured from returning to play until they have fully recovered. That means that it may be harder for current players who later develop CTE to recover damages.