Former NFL Players File Class Action Lawsuit Against NFL Disability Plans, Board, Commissioner Roger Goodell For Systemic Bias Against Disabled Players

New data suggest “neutral” NFL-hired doctors who deny more claims receive higher compensation. Baltimore, MD – Former NFL players today 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 […]

February 9, 2023

New data suggest “neutral” NFL-hired doctors who deny more claims receive higher compensation.

Baltimore, MD – Former NFL players today 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 claims the Plan and its Board, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), have wrongfully denied countless former players the benefits to which they are entitled, are in breach of their fiduciary duty of loyalty to disabled players, and to this day are continuing this misconduct.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Baltimore Division of the U.S. District Court for Maryland, claims 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. The plaintiffs also claim the Board’s actions are financially motivated, with the goal of limiting benefit payments to the very players for whom the Plan was designed.

While the doctors tasked with evaluating former players to determine benefit eligibility are touted as “neutral physicians,” in reality they are hired and paid by the Plan’s Board. 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 not neutral and are clearly conflicted by the Plan. By misrepresenting those facts, the defendants have created a sham process for determining eligibility.

“Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the NFL’s betrayal of its players once we are no longer on the field and making them money,” said Eric Smith, one of ten named plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a former safety who played for seven seasons in the NFL. “Through this lawsuit, we are bringing these injustices to light and demanding the NFL fulfill its responsibilities to players rather than continue to try to dodge accountability every step of the way.”

The complaint further alleges that the Board has, by its own members’ admission in testimony, failed to review all the relevant material for claims as required by the Plan’s terms and despite leading applicants to believe otherwise in their decision letters. Instead, they engaged in a pattern of rubber-stamping the 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 players are represented in this lawsuit by Seeger Weiss LLP; Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC; Athlaw LLP; and Advocate Law Group PC.

“After years of putting their bodies and brains on the line with the NFL’s promise of assistance should they need it, these former players deserve far more than a sham process in which there is little to no chance of success,” the law firms said in a joint statement. “It is shameful that an organization worth billions of dollars is depriving former players of their rightful benefits. We plan to right this wrong.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover benefits due to plaintiffs as well as enforce and clarify their rights under the terms of the Plan, formally prohibit acts and practices that violate the terms of the Plan or ERISA, and obtain other appropriate equitable relief including removal of the Board’s members.

For a copy of the complaint, click here.

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