The federal court case brought by 38 former National Football League players seeking to force the NFL to recognize chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a covered disease under workers’ compensation has been withdrawn.
Instead of pursuing their joint case, the players will file separate workers’ compensation claims in individual states, according to their lawyer.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale, Judge Beth Bloom dismissed the suit (Gaiter et al. v. National Football League) without prejudice.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers – Tim Howard and Miguel Amador of Howard & Associates in Tallahassee – voluntarily withdrew their complaint. They explained that the players have decided to proceed with filing state claims. “We are going forward aggressively state-by-state as that is the least risky approach to secure the recoveries for our clients,” Howard told Insurance Journal.
Earlier, on Dec. 5, Judge Bloom had stayed the case pending a decision on whether it should be transferred to the federal court in Pennsylvania that is handling multidistrict litigation involving concussions and the NFL.
The U.S district court in eastern Pennsylvania, under U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, oversaw a consolidation of concussion lawsuits against the NFL and reached a settlement valued at as much as $1 billion in potential benefits for more than 22,000 former players. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand that concussion settlement, deciding against hearing complaints by some former players that the settlement is inadequate and unfairly treats current versus future brain injuries differently.
The workers’ compensation case brought in federal court did not have a great chance of succeeding, according to lawyers reached after the complaint was filed but before it was withdrawn.
“The first real hurdle here is that it is questionable as to whether a federal court is even the proper forum to determine a state workers’ compensation issue. The answer is most likely no,” Justin R. Parafinczuk, a civil trial attorney and partner with the Florida firm Koch Parafinczuk & Wolf, P.A., told Insurance Journal.
He said the complaint essentially asked the federal court to declare CTE a compensable occupational disease under workers’ compensation laws that vary by state.
“This request would basically strip the defendants’ rights to defend themselves at a traditional worker’s compensation hearing, where the plaintiff or, as referred to in worker’s compensation, the claimant would have the burden to prove these allegations to a worker’s compensation judge, and the defendants would be able to present all available defenses,” he said. This would require the federal court to do an “extensive analysis of the worker’s compensation laws of every state where a defendant resides,” something he said the court would be “highly unlikely” to undertake.
The other hurdle was the players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement, under which CTE is not recognized.