PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL agreed Wednesday to remove a $675 million cap on damages from thousands of concussion-related claims after a federal judge questioned whether there would be enough money to cover as many as 20,000 retired players.
A revised settlement agreement filed in federal court in Philadelphia also eliminates a provision that barred anyone who gets concussion damages from the NFL from suing the NCAA or other amateur football leagues.
In January, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody had denied preliminary approval of the deal because she worried the money could run out sooner than expected. The settlement, negotiated over several months, is designed to last at least 65 years and cover retired players who develop Lou Gehrig's disease, dementia or other neurological problems believed to be caused by concussions suffered during their pro careers.
More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. They include former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.
"This agreement will give retired players and their families immediate help if they suffer from a qualifying neurocognitive illness, and provide peace of mind to those who fear they may develop a condition in the future," plaintiffs' lawyers Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said in a statement.
The original settlement included $675 million for compensatory claims for players with neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing and $10 million for medical research and education.
The revised settlement eliminates the cap on overall damage claims but retains the payout formula for individual retirees. A young retiree with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, would receive $5 million, a 50-year-old with Alzheimer's disease would get $1.6 million, and an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000.
Even with the cap removed, both sides said they believe the NFL will spend no more than about $675 million to ex-players.
Brody will decide later whether to accept the new settlement terms.
Critics of the deal have said the league, with annual revenues topping $9 billion, was getting off lightly. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the settlement avoids the risk of a protracted legal battle.
The proposal does not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries.
"Today's agreement reaffirms the NFL's commitment to provide help to those retired players and their families who are in need, and to do so without the delay, expense and emotional cost associated with protracted litigation," NFL Senior Vice President Anastasia Danias said in a statement.
The National Institutes of Health and the NFL are working together to learn more about the effects of traumatic brain injuries.
The NIH announced in December that it is funding eight projects that will look at the long-term effects of repeated head injuries and how to improve concussion diagnosis.
Currently, a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that has been linked to repeated traumatic brain injuries, can only be diagnosed after death. Patients who suffer from CTE often exhibit Alzheimer's-like symptoms like memory loss, mood swings, cognitive issues, depression confusion, aggressive behavior and problems with motor skills.
Football player Junior Seau was diagnosed with CTE after he committed suicide.
UCLA announced that they had developed testing to diagnose CTE in living patients, including Dorsett, but the tests are still preliminary.