The NFL’s Conundrum: Depositions or Autopsies?

Lawyers representing more than 1,500 ex-players and their families petitioned the US District Court in Philadelphia last week to expedite depositions in a case alleging the NFL willfully concealed information about brain damage arising from repeated hits to the head (Court Focuses On Easterling Suicide).

concussion lawsuit office solutions plusThe thrust of the plaintiffs’ petition was that many of their clients are suffering from extreme dementia and won’t be able to provide depositions if the case doesn’t move forward expeditiously.  For its part, the NFL indicated that on-field injuries are/were covered by collective bargaining agreements and the entire case has no merits.  U.S. District Judge Anita Brody indicated a master complaint summarizing all the issues in the individual suits must be filed before she addresses the deposition issue.

The Court That Really Matters 

Turning from federal court to the Court of Public Relations, the NFL’s situation is essentially a nightmare.  Shortly before last week’s filing, ex-player Ray Easterling, 62 and suffering from dementia, committed suicide (Easterling Suicide).  Shortly after last week’s filing, ex-player Junior Seau, 43, committed suicide (Seau Suicide).  Both of these suicides came fifteen months after ex-player Dave Duerson, 50, shot and killed himself.   All of these men were outstanding players and NFL role-models.

In an important, albeit gruesome, twist, Duerson shot himself in the chest to ensure that his brain could be studied by Boston University’s Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.  Seau, who apparently left no suicide note or instructions, also shot himself in the chest and his family has already agreed to donate his brain for study.  Easterling had earlier expressed a desire to donate his brain to the BU Center, but indicated a change of mind in his final note.  His widow has requested that medical examiners salvage what they can for research.

Legal vs Practical vs Moral

As stewards of America’s Most Popular Pastime the NFL faces a defining moment in the area of concussion-related “head shots”.  While the league has tightened-up rules to protect against injury & come down hard on violators, what about all those guys who played – and suffered brain-damage – before the new rules?  Three paths appear open:

  • Take the legal approach.  Contest the ex-players’ right to file the case because of collective bargaining.  Contest everything.   Drag it out.  Reduce direct liability through plaintiff attrition, e.g., dementia & suicide.
  • Take the practical approach.   Seek to kill off the consolidated case, negotiate individual claims.  Minimize the financial hit by recognizing the underlying problem for individuals but avoiding any blanket admissions.  Avoid being overtly adversarial but quietly drag it out where possible.
  • Take the moral approach.  Recognize that these guys built the NFL’s multi-billion dollar business and need help.  Make sure that the current Players Association kicks in their fair share.

When deciding which approach to take, the NFL might want to consider the PR impact of 2-3 more chest-shot suicides.

About the Author:  Elizabeth Tice heads up Office Solutions Plus LLC, where we provide documents of record for all venues, including court reporting, depositions, and transcription.  We understand the importance and value of accurate records.  617-471-3510. Try us out!

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