PHILADELPHIA – It was announced last week that a former U.S. District Court judge has been appointed to oversee the National Football League’s $1 billion Concussion Settlement program.
Judge Lawrence F. Stengel, a shareholder of law firm Saxton & Stump, will now lead the execution of the settlement agreement by supervising the investigation of potentially fraudulent claim submissions and making recommendations to the Special Masters overseeing the administration of the fund.
Stengel’s appointment comes after a Sept. 12 ruling from U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Anita B. Brody, who granted the NFL’s motion in that regard and had received recommendations from two Special Masters that a lead investigator needed to be selected.
Stengel will serve under the direction of those court-appointed Special Masters, Wendell Pritchett and Jo-Ann M. Verrier.
Judge Lawrence F. Stengel
“I have the utmost respect for Judge Brody, who has managed this complex and significant multidistrict litigation in her typical professional, competent and thoughtful way,” Stengel said.
“I am honored to serve as the Special Investigator in this important case, and I look forward to working with the Special Masters and counsel to provide a balanced and careful analysis of any claims activity that is contrary to the purposes of the Settlement Agreement.”
It marks a new turn for the case, in which Brody initially decided in July that a Special Investigator would not be appointed in the case and that the settlement system was working properly to vet claims – despite the NFL’s assertions to the contrary and its argument that about 23 percent of the claims submitted to the program were fraudulent.
However, the later appointment of Special Masters Pritchett and Verrier and their subsequent recommendations, led Brody to change course.
Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss in New York City, co-lead class counsel for retired NFL players participating in the program, had supported Brody’s initial decision earlier this year not to appoint other officials to oversee the program.
“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 in July.
“Unlike other NFL benefits programs, this settlement is overseen by the court, and the league cannot escape its responsibility. We will make sure that former NFL players and their families receive every benefit they are entitled to under this agreement.”
In April, NFL attorney Brad S. Karp of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison in New York City, said some former NFL players, their physicians and attorneys are attempting to cheat the settlement program’s protocol with “deep and widespread fraud,” consisting of falsified claims. As a result, the league sought the appointment of a special investigator.
“The pervasive fraud by doctors, lawyers and certain players cannot be allowed to continue. The victims are not only the NFL defendants, but also deserving, cognitively-impaired players whose claims have not been able to be processed promptly as a result of the significant efforts required of the claims administrator to thwart fraud,” Karp’s April motion read.
“Ironically, some of the lawyers who are complaining most vociferously and publicly about the slow pace of claims administration are themselves associated with the submission of questionable claims and the true cause of the delay.”
The NFL’s concussion settlement program is currently in its first year of an uncapped 65-year term and during that time, has registered more than 20,000 class members, issued notices of claims determinations for nearly 400 retired NFL players and given out well over $200 million to players given a qualifying diagnosis.
Such qualifying diagnoses are for neurocognitive illnesses, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease”), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and others.
However, some plaintiffs’ lawyers contend the NFL’s claims review process is too slow and is not processing settlement claims and distributing the related funds quickly enough.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:12-md-02323
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com