A federal judge overseeing the NFL's $1 billion concussion settlement with former players said she's concerned about "deceptive practices" by claims service providers, lawyers, lenders and other groups seeking a share of the money.
U.S. District Judge Anita Brody will hold a hearing in Philadelphia on Tuesday to hear from Christopher Seeger, who represented the class of more than 20,000 former NFL players now eligible for payments. Seeger has been investigating allegations that unscrupulous third-party providers have been taking advantage of players with significant brain damage.
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Seeger said Monday night that his investigation had "uncovered practices that are predatory and potentially illegal." He said he'd be asking for "any necessary relief to ensure class members receive these important and hard-earned benefits."
In a court order, the judge said she will weigh the legality of contracts signed by former players who were duped by "deceptive or misleading solicitations."
The settlement, which took effect in January, resolved thousands of lawsuits that accused the NFL of hiding what it knew about the risks of repeated concussions.
It covers retired players who develop Lou Gehrig's disease, dementia or other neurological problems believed to be caused by concussions suffered during their pro careers, with awards as high as $5 million for the most serious cases. Participants had to register by Aug. 7.
A notice to eligible players, approved by the judge this year, said that some players had signed contracts with third-party providers for up to 15 percent of their eventual awards. The providers offered to guide players through a claims process they advertised as difficult. In reality, the notice said, "none of the steps are complicated," and a court-appointed claims administrator helped players register or file claims free of charge.
In a court filing, Seeger accused one attorney, Timothy Howard, of Tallahassee, Florida, of making "serious misrepresentations about the settlement program" to at least one unnamed former player and wrote that Howard might have made similar statements to more than 200 other players he represents.
In a statement, Howard said on Monday, "We are pleased that there is an effort to ensure retired NFL players receive the maximum amount for their injuries. ... We look forward to addressing any clarity needed as to communications with class members."
Former NFL linebacker Brandon Siler, who runs the company Legacy Pro Sports, which helps guide retired players through the claims process, said Monday that he's providing a valuable service to players who need it.
Siler said the claims process wasn't as easy as advertised, especially for men suffering cognitive impairment.
"I don't mislead," he said. "I don't take advantage of my guys. I am there for them."
Legacy charges 10 percent of any future award.
At the judge's behest, Seeger has been demanding communications between third-party providers and former players, as well as copies of contracts or retainers. Some companies have resisted, arguing Seeger lacked a subpoena.