NFL will be on trial in lawsuit

M ore than 4,000 former players are suing the National Football League over alleged negligence regarding concussions, claiming the league hid brain injuries links from players.

Instead of filing these individually, all lawsuits have been consolidated into one master complaint. It’s an extremely complex case with many issues at play.

Matt Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute and professor at Marquette University, said the case involves the intersection of contracts, workers compensation, tort, federal law and labor law.

“This is one of the first cases I’m aware of where the NFL is being sued in this manner, saying that the league is at fault,” he said.

The players, said Mitten, claim there was scientific evidence that indicated that players who played in the NFL could develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in patients with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The players contend that the league either deliberately misled them, or at least, was negligent.

The league, Mitten said, is taking a position that concussions and head injuries are an inherent risk of the game, that there wasn’t any science that really showed the link and claim that they did not make any misrepresentation.

Further complicating the issue are questions about how these claims fall into the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Part of the NFL’s response, said Bill McCardell, partner at the Dewitt Ross & Stevens law firm in Milwaukee, was based on the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement, which says these types of claims are to be done through an arbitration process.

“Players agreed through collective bargaining to arbitrate these claims instead of litigate them,” said Mitten.

McCardell said the players union would prefer not to use arbitration because they are looking to get something out of it.

“Players did it in the one master lawsuit to do it more as a class-action lawsuit,” he said. “It’s a trial lawyers play trying to find a deep, deep pocket here.”

The first hearing for the lawsuit took place in Philadelphia on April 9.

“There are a number of possibilities that the trial court in Philadelphia could rule,” said Mitten. “I suspect that the judge will take her time.”

Regardless of the ruling, which is likely four-to-six months away, said Mitten, an appeal that could take an additional year is highly likely.

“At some point, I think the case will settle,” said Mitten. “But it won’t be until there are final rulings on what can go forward in litigation and what can be asserted in arbitration.” n

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