NFL bracing for concussion lawsuit

Last Thursday, a "master complaint" was filed in Philadelphia on behalf of more than 2,000 former NFL players and their families against the NFL. The filing could eventually be a lengthy litigation.

The major allegation of the complaint is that, despite respected scientific research showing a direct correlation between football and brain injury, the NFL went out of its way to deny it. The plaintiffs will focus on work of the mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) committee between 1994 and 2010. The committee was headed by Elliot Pellman, a Jets doctor who is a rheumatologist, through 2007. The complaint alleges that the committee repeatedly denied a causal link and that the new committee, established in 2010, has disavowed any findings from the previous group.

The relief sought by the plaintiffs includes: (1) declaration of liability, (2) a requirement of medical monitoring of plaintiffs, (3) compensatory and punitive damages, and (4) prejudgment interest and attorneys' fees.

The NFL will certainly try to dismiss the case based on the legal doctrine of "pre-emption": that these issues are governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and therefore the case should not be in court. However, aside from their expected motion to dismiss, there is evidence that the NFL is preparing for a potential trial in this matter.

The league has retained Robert C. Heim of the law firm Dechert LLP. Heim is a nationally known and highly experienced trial attorney with a background in mass tort litigation. He has defended several Fortune 100 companies, including Comcast, Pfizer, US Air and Verizon.

Heim has entered his appearance in the case on behalf of the NFL. Time will tell whether his services will be needed, but the NFL is at least bracing for the possibility of an unwanted and lengthy concussion litigation ahead.