PHILADELPHIA – After years of infighting over $112 million in legal fees in the NFL concussion case, a federal appeals court has approved a plan that gives nearly half the money to a single law firm.
The decision Thursday grants New York-based Seeger Weiss over $51 million, more than 10 times the amount of any other firm, including the lawyers who filed the first cases in 2012.
It was lawyer Christopher Seeger who steered the negotiations that led to a surprise settlement in 2013 and who managed the case through several appeals.
The settlement, expected to cost the NFL more than $1 billion over time, spared the league a trial over claims that it long hid what it knew about the link between concussions and brain injuries.
Fund managers have approved $785 million in claims and paid out $681 million to more than 1,000 retired players or their families. And more than 12,000 of the approximately 20,500 retirees have gotten baseline testing.
Seeger, in a written statement Friday, said he was proud that the settlement is “providing much needed care and support to former NFL players in need.”
Lawyers who challenged the fee split complained that Senior District Judge Anita B. Brody, of Philadelphia, had asked Seeger — and not an outside party — to recommend how much each firm should get. Some firms represented more than 1,000 players, while Seeger directly represented only about 20.
“As the Third Circuit has repeatedly concluded, the district court carefully managed this litigation and showed extraordinary involvement in the stewardship of a complicated class action settlement,” Seeger wrote.
Lawyer Craig Mitnick, whose split of the pot was left at about $675,000, felt the appeals court did not fully explain its reasoning. Oral arguments set for last month were canceled amid the COVID-19 courthouse shutdown, he noted.
“It was almost like a disregard for the facts … a rushed decision to get it off the docket,” Mitnick said.
The claims process was difficult, prolonged and ultimately disappointing for many of his clients, he said.
As of the latest fund report issued Monday, about 35% of submitted claims have been paid, 31% denied and 10% withdrawn. The rest are being processed. The average payout is about $650,000, according to the report.
"The majority of the players didn’t get the benefit of the bargain that they thought they thought they would,” Mitnick said.
The settlement offers compensation of as much as $5 million for the most serious illnesses linked to football concussions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and past deaths involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, later cases of CTE, which some call the signature disease of football, are excluded.