One week after a federal judge refused to grant preliminary approval of the NFL concussion settlement, the lead negotiator for the players is engaged in an increasingly bitter campaign to beat back opposition to the $765 million deal.
In conversations and private meetings, Chris Seeger, one of the settlement's main architects, has clashed with his own clients and with attorneys for other players, lobbying for the agreement while lashing out at critics and the media, according to details provided to "Outside the Lines."
Legal experts said the growing fissures among former players and lawyers could undermine the settlement after Judge Anita B. Brody's surprise ruling, which requested more information amid concerns there is not enough money to cover all qualifying players.
To get the settlement approved, proponents will have to convince Brody not only that it provides enough money but also that thousands of former players have enough in common to be legally considered a "class." Several attorneys involved in the case have argued that they don't.
"That's an argument the judge will have to take very seriously," said William Hubbard, a civil litigation expert at the University of Chicago Law School. "Some very famous cases have gone up in flames because of exactly that issue."
In private conversations, several former players have expressed their dissatisfaction to Seeger, their attorney, about the deal; one said he believed that the concussion suit has been "hijacked" by lawyers and that he's expecting a "high number of opt-outs and objections" among Seeger's clients as the settlement moves forward.
On Tuesday, during a meeting of about 60 lawyers at a Manhattan hotel, Seeger was challenged for several minutes by Tom Demetrio, who represents the family of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson. One lawyer present described the tense scene as "almost a cross-examination." Seeger angered other lawyers in the informational meeting when he repeatedly deflected questions by citing a "gag order" that he said prevented him from sharing information. The lawyers said they were unaware of any such order.
On Thursday, two days after confronting Seeger, Demetrio filed a motion requesting that Brody direct Seeger and co-lead counsel Sol Weiss to "supply all Plaintiffs' attorneys of record with all of the data utilized by them in reaching the proposed settlement agreement."
Lawyers for former San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau launched their own attack less than 24 hours later, objecting to other aspects of the settlement and citing "serious deficiencies." In a motion filed Friday morning, the lawyers zeroed in on a provision that prevents a player who rejects the deal from pursuing a lawsuit against the NFL until the settlement is fully resolved -- possibly delaying cases for years. Seau's lawyers argued that the settlement limits wrongful death claims, suggesting that Seau's children could not collect for the "wrong the NFL did to them."
The challenges are potentially ominous for Seeger and other proponents of the deal, signaling that the families of two prominent players -- Duerson and Seau, both of whom committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest and were later diagnosed with brain damage -- are considering opting out of the deal.