Relatives of former linebacker Junior Seau, whose suicide in 2012 put the NFL's concussion crisis on the national agenda, will reject a proposed settlement between the league and thousands of former players, a lawyer representing the family told "Outside the Lines" on Tuesday.
The decision to opt out means the Seaus will proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit they filed in January 2013. That suit alleges that the NFL concealed the dangers of football-related head trauma over a period of several years. After his death, Seau was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disease that has been found in dozens of deceased NFL players.
The announcement, coming on the eve of the 2014 season, is a serious blow to the NFL's efforts to put the concussion issue to rest. It raises the specter of continuing litigation that would pit the NFL against the family of one of its most popular players. Seau, a certain Hall of Famer, played 20 years in the NFL.
"The family want to know why this settlement seems designed for expediency for the NFL and to ensure that information doesn't come out," said Seau lawyer Steven Strauss, a partner in the firm Cooley LLP. "And the Seau family wants the truth to come out. Since this litigation started, there hasn't been one document produced, there hasn't been one deposition taken. It seems very clearly designed to nip this in the bud and not have the truth come out, and that's not acceptable to the Seau family, and it's not acceptable to Junior's legacy."
The settlement received preliminary approval from a federal judge in July. The deal calls for payments to former players who qualify under a complicated system that measures the level of neurocognitive impairment related to diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and CTE. An initial $765 million deal was resubmitted after the judge raised questions about whether it provided enough money for the potentially large number of players who qualified. The total payout is now unlimited.
Strauss said the Seaus concluded that the deal does not address several concerns, including adequate compensation for the descendants of the former players. Seau's lawyers filed a previous motion objecting to the first proposed settlement, and Strauss said the revised deal did nothing to address those issues.
Strauss said Seau's family, including his four children, is "not suing for his pain and suffering. They're suing for their own. This settlement doesn't address that."
Under the proposed settlement, relatives of some players found to have CTE qualify for compensation up to $4 million.
Chris Seeger, an attorney who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the players, noted that those who opt out not only forfeit compensation and medical treatment provided by the deal but also face significant legal hurdles.
"If Mr. Strauss believes the $4 million his client is eligible for under the settlement is insufficient, he can choose to permanently forfeit these benefits and face all the significant risks associated with continued litigation," Seeger, a partner at Seeger Weiss LLP, said in a statement. "We would advise any class member against opting out of this agreement, considering the tremendous guaranteed benefits it provides."
An NFL spokesman did not respond to inquiries.