Debilitated Players Accuse N.F.L. of Stalling on Settlement Payments

“Players will be shorted what they earned,” said Andrew Stewart, a retired defensive lineman with Parkinson’s disease who anticipated to receive nearly $3 million yet, after a series of delays along with requests, has been offered less than a third of in which amount along with is actually appealing. “This specific is actually not a settlement. This specific is actually about paying sick men as little as possible.”

Stewart, who was inside league through 1989-93 along with currently lives in Canada, received a Parkinson’s diagnosis nearly a decade ago along with has been receiving aid through two N.F.L. benefit plans. yet to receive money through the settlement, he was required to get a diagnosis through an American doctor.

Alerted to some of the delays along with accusations of unfairness leveled by lawyers for the players, Anita B. Brody, the federal judge overseeing the case, will meet with the N.F.L., the plaintiffs’ chief lawyer along using a court-appointed administrator on Monday in Philadelphia to look at ways handle claims more efficiently along with more transparently.

“Like an insurance company, they deny everything, along with they go through a series of denials until people give up,” said Sheilla Dingus, who runs Advocacy for Fairness in Sports, an unaffiliated nonprofit group in which monitors the league’s legal cases. “Unfortunately, the N.F.L. has the capital to keep This specific going a lot longer than some of these players will live.”

Orrin Brown, the court-approved administrator of the settlement, said the idea was common for the parties to settlements to fine-tune their agreements to account for issues in which arise. He said in which players are currently, for instance, being asked to turn inside raw scores through their neurocognitive exams even though in which was not explicit inside original agreement.

He said the bulk of the claims in which have been sent back to players were for missing paperwork. yet another group of claims have been reviewed because many players were receiving identical diagnoses through the same physician, leading to questions of whether the players had been properly examined.

Brown said he understood in which players along with their lawyers might view these additional requirements with suspicion. yet he said they were part of an effort to prevent fraud, not block real claims.

“the idea does seem people feel they are being nickeled along with dimed on paperwork,” Brown said. “yet there’s nothing nefarious or conspiratorial in This specific. The goal is actually to make sure everyone gets paid for legitimate claims.”


Andrew Stewart recovering a fumble for the Browns inside A.F.C. Championship game against the Broncos in 1990.

Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

So far, claims have been submitted by more than 1,400 former players, who are seeking up to $5 million each — though most will likely receive far less — for severe neurological diseases tied to years of head hits on the field. A total of 20,000 retired players registered so they can submit claims currently or inside future through the settlement, which offers one-time cash awards for those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia along with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head hits in which is actually diagnosed posthumously.

Of the 1,400 claims filed, 140 have been approved, which legal experts say is actually startlingly low. The remaining 0 percent of those claims are either inside process of being evaluated or have been sent back to the players along with their lawyers to amend before they can be approved.

The 140 approved claims are worth $195 million, yet the N.F.L. has written checks for only $100 million because payments to lawyers along with Medicare are deducted through awards. The league has appealed eight awards in which the administrator granted, along with 12 players have appealed their awards, calling them too low. The administrator also randomly audits 10 percent of all claims.

Chris Seeger, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in which the administration of such class-action settlements often have “growing pains” because of unanticipated problems. In This specific case, some former players have “pushed the envelope,” he said, by, among various other things, obtaining diagnoses through psychologists, not neurologists; having doctors affirm diagnoses without examining patients; or submitting claims without the necessary medical records.

By bouncing claims back to players, the administrator is actually trying address “some funny things in which didn’t look right,” along with to ensure in which when claims are finally evaluated, they have a better chance of being approved, Seeger said.

Seeger disputes claims by lawyers who accuse the N.F.L. of foot-dragging along with trying to reduce payments to players.

“is actually This specific working perfectly? No,” Seeger said. yet “if there aren’t sufficient records to support a diagnosis, then we have a problem. The procedures are laid out, yet there is actually early on typically confusion. Some of the idea is actually legitimate stuff in which is actually getting worked out.”

Many lawyers for the players do not agree with in which explanation. The high number of claims in which have been questioned, they said, is actually evidence in which fraud prevention is actually being used as a way to keep down payouts.

“I worked at State Farm for 10 years, so I understand all the tactics,” said Patrick Tighe, a lawyer in Florida who represents 0 players. “There are all sorts of ways to slow down the claims. Basically, they’re saying you need to start all over again, even if you have a pre-existing diagnosis” recognized by an N.F.L. benefit plan.

All 35 claims Tighe has filed have been audited or sent back because of “deficiencies,” he said. Jim Acho, a lawyer in Michigan who represents former players, including Gale Sayers, said in which just four of the nearly three dozen claims he had filed were approved, along with in which two of those were audited.

Jason Luckasevic, who represents dozens of former N.F.L. players, has filed more than 100 claims, along with more than 85 percent of them have been flagged for deficiencies.

“The settlement was sold by the N.F.L. along with Seeger as quick pay,” Luckasevic said. “This specific was something everyone feared. This specific is actually the N.F.L. disability plan product 2.0.”

The N.F.L., which insisted on much of the fraud prevention language inside settlement, denies in which the idea has pushed the administrator to deliberately delay the payment of genuine claims, along with the idea denies in which stricter requirements were added after the deal was made final.

“There have been no adjustments inside terms of the settlement agreement or the criteria for claims approval since the settlement was finalized,” Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the N.F.L., said in a statement, adding in which neither the league nor Seeger had taken any steps to delay the payment of legitimate claims.


Memorabilia in Stewart’s home in British Columbia. Stewart, 51, anticipated to receive $2.8 million through the N.F.L.’s concussions settlement, yet the award was reduced to $750,000.

Ruth Fremson/The fresh York Times

The frustration among players is actually particularly acute for those whose neurological diseases were diagnosed years before the settlement was approved, along with who are receiving benefits for those ailments through the N.F.L. under one of the idea regular disability plans. The delays are producing the idea harder for them to cover escalating medical costs along with, in some cases, to repay high-interest loans they took out using their settlement as collateral.

Yet many players are afraid to speak publicly about their cases because they fear the N.F.L. will deny their claims or strip them of various other benefits.

Stewart, one of the few who would certainly talk, said the league must be held accountable. He was found to have Parkinson’s disease in 2009, when he was 43.

Stewart anticipated to receive a gross award of $2.8 million through the concussions settlement. yet after he filed a claim, he was told in which another doctor had to confirm his diagnosis.

The fresh diagnosis, though, would certainly have applied to his current age, 51, which would certainly have reduced his award by $1.2 million because inside settlement, older players are paid less than younger players on the presumption in which their disease is actually related to age, not football.

After Stewart submitted much additional paperwork, the administrator recognized the earlier diagnosis. yet the award was reduced to $750,000 because the administrator calculated he had played only one season, not four.

inside settlement, the more eligible seasons a player has, the higher the exposure along with the higher the award. yet the number of seasons is actually reduced if players spent time on the injured reserved list because they presumably were not exposed to head hits then.

Stewart does not dispute being injured for parts of his career. yet in his day, coaches forced him to keep practicing — often with the aid of painkillers — so he was exposed to head hits even if he did not play on game day.

In many ways, the N.F.L. case is actually different through many settlements, experts said. Most settlements describe the kinds of documents to support claims, like a credit card number or a receipt. inside N.F.L. settlement, many retirees are applying for benefits for dementia, which can be complicated to diagnose because the idea is actually more subjective than, say, A.L.S.

Because awards can reach millions of dollars, the players’ lawyers — many of whom receive a percentage any settlement — have an incentive to make their clients look worse than they may be, a reason for the N.F.L. to be alert to fraud, experts said.

Indeed, when the deal was first announced in 2013, the N.F.L. agreed to pay $765 million. yet players feared the money would certainly run out before every claim was filed, so the league agreed to “uncap” payments. In return for unlimited liability, the N.F.L. insisted on stronger rules to block fraudulent claims.

yet the slow pace of approved claims has raised questions about whether those rules were meant to do more than fight fraud.

Kenneth Feinberg, who has administered large class-action settlements, including those related to the BP oil spill along with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, said in which inside cases he has handled, defendants have a right to try to prevent fraud. yet the delays in which have come through questioning a large number of claims can erode trust inside settlement.

“the idea’s not just how many claims have been found eligible, yet how quickly the money goes out the door,” said Feinberg, who is actually not involved inside N.F.L. case. “All the words inside entire world are no substitute for visible evidence of generosity, along with checks flowing to families in need.”

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