Continuing the controversy surrounding Mike Webster’s death, and on the heels of the NFL disability board's admittance to the causal link between brain damage and death, the league and individual team owners now claim that they were unaware of the potential life threatening injuries that could occur as a result of concussions. The league now faces a lawsuit of almost 4,000 players claiming they suffered concussions leading to future complications such as depression, dementia, and other serious medical conditions. Lead attorney, Larry Coben, states that “…the NFL’s been slow if not completely reticent about acknowledging it and giving guys benefits or anything of that sort.
Arguing for collateral estoppel, attorneys will point to the NFL disability board decision of 12 years ago, which concluded that concussions do indeed cause serious damage, and attempt to stop the league from making any points for denial of such knowledge. A successful collateral estoppel argument could shorten the litigation proceedings signifigantly, but in order for such argument to work, both cases must be identical. It is suggested that the argument of collateral estoppel will be unsuccessful in this suit as medical histories and player injuries are unique in all cases. The remaining course of action for the players involved in the suit is to either determine a complete settlement of all claims, or send each individual lawsuit back to the city in which it was filed, resulting in hundreds of jury trials to sort out the specifics of each player’s injuries.
Although seen as a breakthrough in previous years, the favorable decision in the Webster case could end up hurting players involved in the suit. Webster's case was decided under the collective bargaining agreement of the player’s union, which may push this suit to be decided under the same agreement, potentially forcing claims into arbitration as per the contractual obligations set forth within. This arbitration could result in a serious setback for the players, and result in a smaller payout of damages as they would have received had the suit been allowed to progress to a jury trial.
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