Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A federal judge on Wednesday granted final approval of a revised settlement agreement between the NFL and thousands of former players who sued the league over concussions and their effects.
The settlement will pay up to $5 million to former players diagnosed with one of a number of qualifying neurocognitive illnesses and includes money for education programs geared toward concussion prevention.
In a 132-page document outlining a case that began almost four years ago with a lawsuit in California and expanded to include over 5,000 former players and more than 300 suits, U.S. District Court Judge Anita B. Brody called the settlement "fair, reasonable, and adequate."
The sides struck a reworked deal last July that included unlimited funds for former players and their families -- this after Brody rejected a $765 million settlement agreed upon in August 2013, saying she feared not all retired players who received a qualifying diagnosis would be paid.
The new "uncapped" settlement, Brody wrote last year, "ensures that there are sufficient funds available to pay all claims through the 65-year term of the settlement and improves the manner in which diagnoses are made to protect against fraud."
The fund established by the settlement, which will be adjusted for inflation, provides cash rewards for players diagnosed with a qualifying disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Also covered are Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, players who have died with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and those who have other levels of neurocognitive impairment.
The maximum awards include a $1.5 million payout for what is called level 1.5 neurocognitive impairment, all the way up to $5 million for ALS.
"Nearly four years ago, retired NFL players embarked on a mission that many thought to be impossible: to obtain security and care for the devastating neurocognitive injuries they were experiencing," Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
"Today, these courageous men and their families have made history. Despite the difficult health situations retired players face today, and that many more will unfortunately face in the future, they can take comfort that this settlement's benefits will be available soon, and will last for decades to come."
Seeger and Weiss said the benefits process would open this summer as long as no appeals are filed. An appeal would stall the process and could take months, if not years, to settle, the attorneys said.
The settlement also provides benefits, including counseling and prescription drug benefits, to players who are "impaired but have not deteriorated to the point of receiving" a diagnosis that qualifies them under the settlement.
NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash called the decision a "historic settlement."
"As a result of the settlement, retirees and their families will be eligible for prompt and substantial benefits and will avoid years of costly litigation that -- as Judge Brody's comprehensive opinion makes clear -- would have an uncertain prospect of success," Pash said in a statement.
"We look forward to implementing the terms of the settlement and continuing to work with our players, coaches and medical staffs to enhance the safety and benefits of football."
The more than 5,000 players who sued the league -- including Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson -- believed the NFL knew about the dangers of concussions and hid information about them for years.
The first suit was filed on July 19, 2011 in California by 73 former players who alleged the NFL failed to take reasonable action to protect players from the chronic risks created by head injuries and concealed those risks.