A ruling on a high-profile NFL case, alleging the league ignored evidence that concussions can cause brain damage, won’t be issued anytime soon.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of Philadelphia instead sent the two sides to the negotiating table Tuesday.
The lawsuits involves more than 4,000 former professional players who claim the NFL failed to warn them about the dangers of head injuries. The NFL denies this, adding that the league wouldn’t be liable due to its contracts with players, and called on the court to dismiss the case.
Brody heard arguments in April, with former Eagles players and widows of other NFL players among those in attendance.
Brody was slated to issue a decision on the NFL’s dismissal request later this month, but she sent the case to mediation.
“In essence, this is a final attempt by the judge to try to persuade or help the parties come to a solution on their own,” said Marc Edelman, an adjunct sports law professor at Fordham University and incoming associate professor of law at the City University of New York. Edelman says, unlike arbitration, neither side has to agree on anything that might come of the mediation efforts.
He doesn’t think anything will.
“From the standpoint of the NFL, they may be concerned as well that if they agree to any settlement here, it might encourage future litigation by some of the current players that thereafter suffered some of the same [health] symptoms,” said Edelman.
Whatever happens, Andrew Brandt, director of Villanova University’s sports law program and an analyst with ESPN, says the future success of the multibillion-dollar football industry is at stake. In other words, public relations will weigh heavily on whether the NFL decides to settle in advance, according to Brandt. He too thinks the chances are slim, but says everything’s speculation at this point.
“All the records are sealed, so it’s hard to know why this has been sent through to mediation,” said Brandt. “My instinct tells me [Judge Brody] looked at it and decided, ‘Let’s give it a chance between parties before I rule.’ And perhaps both sides were looking at a potential ruling and figured they’d be better off trying to forge a reconciliation than waiting for her to rule.”
The risk of the case moving forward, according to Edelman, is that the judge could rule entirely in favor of one side at some point. Brandt says if mediation fails and the judge doesn’t dismiss the case, the legal process is sure to be an emotional one that could take years.
“No two concussions are alike. No two plaintiffs are alike,” said Brandt. “The discovery process is going to be voluminous in this case.”
Brody has given the mediator, Layn R. Phillips, until September to come up with a report.