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Tony Dorsett of the Dallas Cowboys greets fans before the Class of 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Fawcett Stadium on August 2, 2008 in Canton, Ohio.
A federal judge on Tuesday declined to approve the NFL’s $765 million settlement over brain injuries, saying it might not be enough money to cover benefits for 20,000 retired players.
"I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid," wrote U.S. District Judge Anita Brody.
Brody asked for more financial analysis from both parties in her 12-page opinion on why she denied, for now, approval of the deal.
"Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis, it is difficult to see how the Monetary Award Fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels," Brody wrote.
Reached shortly before the start of the regular season, the National Football League had hoped the proposed settlement, which was negotiated over several months, would put to rest a barrage of lawsuits.
More than 4,500 have been filed – claiming professional football caused concussions and other brain injuries that then set off dementia and other diseases — and some of the lawsuits accused the NFL of fraud in how it handled concussions.
The NFL has called the settlement — in which the league admits no liability or even that football caused the injuries — a way to “do the right thing” and take care of retirees.
A federal judge has put a $760 million settlement between the NFL and retired players on hold.
The decision comes just a week after the players' lawyers filed a detail payout plan that awards money to retirees based on their age and diagnoses.
For example, a younger retiree with a qualifying diagnosis of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, would receive $5 million, while those with Parkinson’s Disease could get a maximum of $3.5 million and a serious dementia patient would be eligible for $3 million. An 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000.
"In the absence of additional supporting evidence, I have concerns about the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the Settlement,” Brody wrote.
Some have argued the wildly popular NFL, which hauls in more than $9 billion a year, was getting off easy by paying out less than a billion dollars in a settlement designed to last at least 65 years.
In addition to the payouts to players, the NFL agreed to fund additional research into brain injuries.
But the players’ attorneys said they faced huge challenges just to get their cases to trial and prove the injuries were linked to the players’ NFL service.
Sol Weiss, the lead lawyer for the NFL retirees, said he expected the class-action settlement would ultimately be approved.
"I am very confident that the (actuarial) people we used are right, and that there will be enough money to cover these claims for 65 years," Weiss said.
According to terms released by the NFL, the settlement includes $675 million to former players or their families to compensate them for cognitive injuries as well as $75 million for baseline medical exams for players and $10 million for medical research and education.
The NFL also would pay an additional $112 million to the players' lawyers for their fees and expenses, for a total payout of nearly $900 million.
Among the former players who have filed lawsuits against the NFL are former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.
The NFL has not yet commented on the judge’s preliminary denial of the settlement.
When the settlement was reached last August, the NFL's Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash said the agreement "lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players."
In November, 10 former professional hockey players sued the NHL, claiming the league purposely changed the rules to speed of the game and make it more violent, an act their lawyers contend led to more head injuries. The NHL said it was completely satisfied with how it and the players’ union have managed player safety.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.