PHILADELPHIA » The family of the late NFL star Junior Seau plans to object to the proposed $765 million settlement of player concussion claims because the fund would not pay wrongful death claims to survivors.
Although the players’ lawsuits accused the NFL of concealing known concussion risks, there would be no blame assessed as part of the settlement, and no punitive damages for pain and suffering.
"Mr. Seau’s children have their own claims for the wrong the NFL did to them. His children are not suing for their father’s pain and suffering, they are suing for their own," lawyer Steven M. Strauss wrote in a court filing Friday that signaled the family’s intent to pursue an individual lawsuit.
Other potential critics to the settlement reached by players’ lawyers and the league are also starting to emerge — and the judge overseeing the case has herself expressed doubts the sum is big enough.
About 50 plaintiffs’ lawyers met in New York last week to learn more about the settlement from the lead lawyers, but some left dissatisfied.
"This could be a great settlement, this could be a terrible settlement, but I don’t know," said Chicago lawyer Thomas A. Demetrio, who represents 10 players, including the family of the late Dave Duerson, a four-time Pro Bowler who mostly played with the Chicago Bears.
Duerson fatally shot himself in the chest, leaving his brain intact for autopsy. Like Seau, he was diagnosed with CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. An honors graduate and trustee of the University of Notre Dame, he was 50 when he died, which would factor into his family’s payout.
"His estate will receive $2.2 million. That’s not adequate," Demetrio said.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who must weigh the deal, also wants more actuarial details than filed with the settlement papers. She preliminarily rejected the plan last month, questioning whether $765 million will be enough to fund about 20,000 claims involved for 65 years, as promised.
The architects of the plan argue that the players could end up with nothing if the lawsuits are thrown out of court. The NFL had argued that the claims belonged in arbitration. The retirees would also have to prove their injuries came from NFL concussions, and not those suffered earlier.
"The retired player community has provided overwhelming support for this agreement, and we look forward to finalizing it soon so they can begin taking advantage of its benefits," lead lawyers Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said in a statement today that recognized the work of other lawyers on the case.
The NFL settlement, if approved in court, would be capped at $4 million on behalf of players diagnosed after their deaths with traumatic brain injury.
The payments could go as high as $5 million for younger men with Alzheimer’s disease, but many more plaintiffs with mild dementia would get $25,000 or less under the deal.
Demetrio wants to know how much of the NFL’s payment will come from insurance, and why the lawyers would split another $112 million, when the case did not reach discovery or trial. The NFL’s annual revenues top $9 billion.
"It’s very, very unusual … for all the plaintiffs to not know what’s going on," Demetrio said. "They’re acting like the Lone Ranger."
The Seau Family, meanwhile, is also concerned that the deal calls for a stay on individual suits until all appeals are finalized with the settlement.
"Junior Seau’s children could be forced to wait years for justice, while the NFL continues to make billions of dollars and the memories of witnesses grow ever more distant," the filing said.
The NFL, which on today joined two U.S. lawmakers in pushing for legislation to help protect student athletes from concussions, declined comment today on the Seau family’s objections.