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NFL to remove $675 million cap on concussion damages

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Getty Images/File/2009

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

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.

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US District Judge Anita Brody had denied preliminary approval of the deal in January 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.

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.

Critics of the deal have said the league, with annual revenues topping $9 billion, was getting off lightly. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have 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.

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