Ex-wife of former Chiefs player can't sue team over concussions

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 9, 2019

PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge has ruled that the wife of a former Kansas City Chiefs football player cannot sue the team due to her failure to opt-out from participation as a class member in the multimillion-dollar NFL concussion litigation.

On Jan. 3, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Anita Brody ruled that Anita Martin was not entitled to seek damages related to her ex-husband’s football-related injuries.

“Martin was previously married to Christopher Martin, a former player for the Chiefs, and brings a claim against the Chiefs for loss of consortium related to head injuries her ex-husband sustained while playing for the Chiefs,” Brody wrote. 

"The Chiefs contend that Martin’s claim should be dismissed because she is a class member in the NFL Concussion Settlement and did not opt out of the class. Consequently, her claim is precluded by the settlement. Martin contends that, because she informally opted out of the class, her claim is not precluded. In the alternative, Martin moves to now opt out of the settlement.”

The NFL’s concussion settlement program is in its first year of an uncapped 65-year term and has registered more than 20,000 class members. It has issued notices of claims determinations for nearly 400 retired NFL players and given out 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.

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. After protests from the NFL that a sizable percentage of the claims being submitted to the settlement program were allegedly fraudulent, Brody assigned former U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Stengel to act as the program’s Special Investigator and oversee the integrity of the submitted claims last month.

According to Brody, Anita Martin had until Oct. 14, 2014, to affirmatively opt out of the settlement class, but did not do so – though her former husband Christopher Martin did. The class was later certified on April 22, 2015, barring all of its members from, among other things, engaging in litigation against the NFL.

The plaintiff was married to Christopher Martin from 1986 to 2006, according to court records. Martin played for the Chiefs from as a linebacker from 1988 to 1993.

“In January 2014, [Anita] Martin filed a lawsuit against the Chiefs in Missouri state court. Martin’s suit alleged that her ex-husband ‘suffered multiple concussive and sub-concussive injuries,’ that 'defendant’s wrongful conduct…directly caused or directly contributed to cause Mr. Martin to develop post-concussion syndrome and latent brain disease, including…Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,' and that 'as a result of defendant’s wrongful conduct and resulting injuries to Mr. Martin, [Anita Martin] suffered a loss of consortium," Brody said.

Martin’s lawsuit was later consolidated with the NFL Concussion Litigation, over common questions of law already pending in the larger case.

In 2017, almost three years after the opt-out period ended, Martin took a trio of further actions against the Chiefs: 

-Her counsel participated by phone in a March 27, 2017 opt-out organizational meeting; 

-She responded to the Court’s Order that all opt-outs should file a short form complaint by doing so on July 27, 2017; and

-She submitted a court filing purporting to join the motion to remand filed by her ex-husband and the other plaintiffs in the Chiefs litigation on July 27, 2017.

The Chiefs argue that Martin’s claims should be dismissed because she is a settlement class member who failed to timely opt out, and thus her claims are precluded by the settlement. Martin argues that she “effectively” opted out and, in the alternative, that she should be allowed to opt out now because her failure to timely opt out was due to excusable neglect.

“Martin’s confusion about her opt-out status, standing alone, is not enough to support a finding of excusable neglect. Although ‘excusable neglect’…is not limited strictly to omissions caused by circumstances beyond the control of the movant,’ ‘inadvertence, ignorance of the rules, or mistakes construing the rules do not usually constitute excusable neglect,” Brody said. 

“Martin contends that she failed to timely opt out of the settlement solely because she was under the mistaken belief that she did not personally have to opt out. This factor weighs against a finding of excusable neglect.”

Ultimately, Brody ruled against Martin’s challenge to belatedly opt-out of the settlement program.

“Because her claim is squarely within the scope of the settlement’s release, her claim is barred by claim preclusion. For the above reasons, Martin’s motion to opt out will be denied, and the Chiefs’ motion to dismiss Martin’s claim will be granted.”

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case Nos. are 2:14-cv-03381 and 2:12-md-02323

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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