A federal judge has denied the NFL's request for a special investigator to address what it claimed was widespread fraud in its concussion settlement with former players.
In a filing Wednesday to the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania, Judge Anita Brody ruled that the sides "have demonstrated that they are capable of ferreting out any claims involving misrepresentations, omissions, or concealment of material fact, and ensuring that those claims are not paid."
NFL attorneys made the request for a third-party investigator in April, saying the disbursement process had been slowed by a large number of "red-flagged" claims. At that point, more than 400 claims had been rejected by an independent claim administrator.
Among the complaints listed in that filing were "a disturbing pattern" of text messages and other communication in in which players were coached by claims service providers to "beat the neuropsychological tests."
But Christopher Seeger, the lead attorney for the players, said Wednesday that he agreed a special investigator was not needed to address the issue. Since the April filing, Seeger said, "the claims process has continued to accelerate and the current audit process is working effectively."
According to Seeger, 499 claims totaling more than $485 million have been approved for eligible ex-players. The settlement, finalized in 2013 for an eventual sum of at least $1 billion, is intended for former players and families for brain injuries stemming from football. Seeger said in filing that approximately $1.4 billion is set to be paid out.
"We will not allow a small number of potentially fraudulent claims to be used as an excuse by the NFL to deny payment to legitimately injured former players," Seeger said. "We will make sure that former NFL players and their families receive every benefit they are entitled to under this agreement."
The NFL issued a statement after Brody's ruling.
"We want to ensure that players and their families receive the benefits they deserve," it said. "The Court overseeing the NFL Concussion Settlement today issued an order confirming that the NFL provided 'sufficient evidence of possible fraud to warrant serious concern' and commended the League for 'its commitment to faithfully implement the Settlement Agreement by bringing this issue to light.'"
While noting that the judge did not find a need for a special investigator now, the league said that "the judge noted in her decision that she would consider appointment of a Special Master at such time as the Claims Administrator or Special Masters alert the Court to the need for additional assistance."