On February 9, 2023, 10 former NFL players filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL Player Disability & Survivor Benefit Plan and NFL Player Disability & Neurocognitive Benefits Plan (the Plan), the Disability Board that administers the Plan, and each of the Board’s members, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The lawsuit alleges the Plan and its Board wrongfully denied benefits to countless former players, in violation of the terms of the Plan and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
The lawsuit claims that the defendants have repeatedly, willfully, and systematically breached their fiduciary duty of loyalty through affirmative misrepresentations, hostile and adversarial positions, bad faith, active concealment, and otherwise failing to act in the interest of disabled retired players and their beneficiaries. Plaintiffs allege the Board’s misconduct is financially motivated, with the goal of limiting benefit payments to the very players for whom the Plan was designed.
The doctors tasked with the evaluation of former players to determine benefit eligibility are hired and paid by the Plan’s Board yet are wrongfully touted as “neutral physicians.” Numerous physicians have been paid between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in direct and indirect compensation by the board, and new data strongly suggests that the more the Board pays a physician or neuropsychologist for their work, the more likely they are to deny applicants their benefits. The former players allege that these physicians are thus not neutral because they have financial conflicts of interests. By misrepresenting those facts, the defendants have created a sham process for determining eligibility.
The complaint further alleges that the Board has, by its own members’ admission in testimony, failed to review all relevant material for claims as required by the Plan’s terms despite leading applicants to believe otherwise in decision letters. Instead, they engaged in a pattern of rubber-stamping erroneous conclusions of physicians financially incentivized to deny claims. In the aggregate, the former players claim that the defendants have repeatedly breached their fiduciary duty and acted as their adversary rather than as a fiduciary.
Former NFL players who sustained serious injuries or disabilities while playing football in the league are meant to receive benefits per the Plan.
Commonly reported injuries and disabilities include:
- Degenerative joint disease (DJD)
- Hamstring injuries
- Disc herniations
- Shoulder Instability
- Neurocognitive impairments
- Psychological ailments
- Concussion/Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Other neurological and degenerative football-linked impairments
The failure of NFL affiliated doctors to diagnose these conditions and help former players get the financial support they are entitled to has caused undue suffering for former players who now struggle to get adequate medical care for their lifelong injuries and disabilities.
The lawsuit seeks to recover benefits due to plaintiffs as well as enforce and clarify their rights under the terms of the Plan, formally prohibiting acts and practices that violate the terms of the Plan or ERISA and obtain appropriate equitable relief including removal of the Board’s members.