On Thursday, a motion was filed that would consolidate all of the existing lawsuits into what is termed a "master suit" against the league.
The NFL long has sought to have the lawsuits filed by former players to be combined into one blanket suit. Law scholars widely believe that the players don't have a legitimate case because the NFL would have to be found to have intentional malice for the players to prevail in court and, considering that the collective bargaining process has been in place for decades, the chances of the players winning in court is dubious at best.
Former Packers Don Beebe, Robert Brown, LeRoy Butler, Vinnie Clark, Mark Chmura, Don Davey, Kenneth Davis, Santana Dotson, Gary Ellerson, Bill Ferrario, Jim Grabowski, Tiger Greene, Michael Haddix, Noah Herron, MacArthur Lane, Dorsey Levens, Don Majkowski, Roell Preston, Ed West and James Willis are among the former Packers named in lawsuits. And that's just from one quick look at one of the lists on NFLConcussionLitigation.com. Carl Hairston, a former assistant coach for the Packers who played defensive line for the Browns, is a plaintiff, as well, as is Wendell Tyler, the father of rookie Packers running back Marc Tyler.
"The NFL, as the organizer, marketer and face of the most popular sport in the United States, in which mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) is a regular occurrence and in which players are at risk for MTBI, was aware of the evidence and the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries virtually at the inception, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information from the plaintiffs and all others who participated in organized football at all levels," the complaint states.
In addition, from the complaint: "Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem."
Ideally, given the healthy climate of the current NFL, a deal can be brokered that would give the players a group settlement amount – a move by the NFL to end the animosity and bring the concussion question to an end. It's clear that the NFL is now fully aware of the concussion question, which was brought to light several years ago when former Minnesota Vikings player Brent Boyd testified at a U.S. Congressional hearing saying that the NFL's policy toward treating claims of post-concussion symptoms was to "delay, deny and hope they die."
In its attempt to defend its policies, the NFL hired top experts in the field of concussion and post-concussion problems. What the league found was that, in many ways, it was negligent. However, the malice aspect of such lawsuits – the "what did they know and when did they know it?" component – is lacking. The information gleaned by their own medical "hired guns" in an attempt to defend itself against the accusations was so conclusive that the NFL immediately made sweeping changes to its in-house policy on concussions. No longer were players told "it's just a bruise" and sent back out on the field. Now players are benched against their will and such things as brain baseline tests are given annually to assure that players aren't putting the rest of their lives in danger by continuing to play after sustaining concussions.
The NFL has until Aug. 9 to file a motion for the federal court to dismiss the consolidated case and the league will be able to make a relatively persuasive argument. If the case does proceed to trial, the ugly underbelly of the way "business was done" in the NFL will be exposed – if it hasn't been already. It's seems clear that the lives of several former NFL players have been shortened as the result of suffering from post-concussion trauma. But can the former players prove that the NFL was negligent in its actions? Given that there was no such thing as an MRI – or even arthroscopic surgery – back in the day when those players/plaintiffs were employed by the NFL, the league can likely legally wrangle its way out of harm's way. Many of the top legal minds say that, realistically, the players have a case. In the terms of the legal system, their case simply won't meet the burden of proof.
With any luck, the league and the former players will reach a settlement that will be mutually beneficial. Money won't ease the pain, but it might help many of the former players get the medical management they need to make their later years more comfortable and help put more "quality" into their quality of life.
The "end game" of the concussion lawsuits will begin today. It may last for years, much like the players' battle for free agency wasn't won in court in a matter of days or months, rather years. However, don't be surprised to see the two sides reach a class-action compromise that will satisfy both parties. If the players take the matter to court, they will likely lose, because NFL lawyers will be able to persuasively assert the even the medical community didn't know the long-term effects of impact-related concussions.
As it stands, both sides will be able to submit legal briefs and objections to the court until late November, at which point a decision will be rendered whether the cases should proceed or not.
Packer Report's Bill Huber contributed to this report.
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