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Will concussions bankrupt the NFL?

Will concussion litigation bankrupt the NFL?Some 3,500 former NFL players are now involved in the ever-rising number of concussion related lawsuits against the league.  If the suit isn’t dismissed, if the suit is lost, is it possible that the NFL could be facing enough in damages that it would actually go bankrupt?  There are certainly millions of dollars at stake…

The Concussion Cases

As of August, there have been 135 cases filed with nearly 3500 plaintiffs, including former players and their families.  A “master complaint,” which consolidated all the individual cases into one, was filed in federal court in June in Philadelphia.

The first concussion lawsuit was originally filed in California by 75 former NFL players and 51 spouses, over a year ago, July 19, 2011.  The mass action lawsuit was not only against the NFL, but als against NFL properties and helmet manufacturer Riddell.  The first federal lawsuit was filed a month after that by 7 players and their families, including Ray Easterling who would later kill himself and be shown to have CTE.

The players claim that the NFL lied to them about the risks of concussions, especially of the long-term effects, and that the NFL was not vigilant enough in preventing and treating concussions.

Class Action?

The big risk for the NFL is the likelihood of this becoming a class action suit as the number of cases grows — it is impractical to hear 5000 individual player’s stories.  Class-action could significantly increase the NFL’s potential damages because the class would grow to include all the individuals in the class; estimates say there are up to 20,000 former NFL players who would be included.

The league makes an estimated $9 billion a year and has insurance coverage, so the damages would have to be substantial for the NFL to be driven to bankruptcy.  That said, if the suit is 20,000 player and the damages match Derrick Walker’s July lawsuit for $500,000, the NFL could face a loss of $10 billion.

This litigation may not even reach court for years, some speculating as far in the future as 2018.  And after that, there will still be appeals.  This looks like a very long slog.



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