(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt of a case summary that appeared in the December issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter. For this summary and the case citation and many others like it, consider subscribing to the Reporter at https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)
A federal judge has declined to reopen the claim of a former professional football player, who alleged that he was entitled to more disability benefits than he was originally awarded by the NFL’s Retirement Board.
The plaintiff began playing in the NFL in 1995. His 8-year career included stints at multiple teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chicago Bears, and the Atlanta Falcons. After his retirement, he began experiencing health issues, such as anxiety, sleep problems, social withdrawal, headaches, memory loss, and sensitivity to lights. The plaintiff claimed many of the issues were attributable to the head trauma he suffered as an NFL player.
Before beginning its analysis, the court noted that the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (the Plan) provides retirement, disability, and related benefits to eligible players. Under the Plan, players can file applications to receive benefits. The Retirement Board (the Board) administers the Plan and possesses the sole authority to grant or deny players’ applications.
“Once a player files his application, the Board makes an initial determination as to whether the player is totally and permanently disabled,” wrote the court. “If the Board finds that the player is totally and permanently disabled, the player is entitled to total and permanent disability benefits (T & P benefits). However, the amount of money the player receives depends on which of four T& P benefit categories the Board determines is appropriate. The four categories are: Active Football, Active Non-football, Football Degenerative, or Inactive. The latter two categories are relevant here.
“The Plan defines a Football Degenerative injury as a disability that ‘arises out of League football activities, and results in total and permanent disability before fifteen years after the end of the Player’s last Credited Season.’ The Plan provides that the Inactive category applies if ‘(1) the total and permanent disability arises from other than league football activities while the Player is a Vested Inactive Player, or (2) the disability(ies) arises out of League football activities and results in total and permanent disability fifteen or more years after the end of the Player’s last Credited Season.’ Thus, the difference in the two categories is whether or not the player’s injury arose from football activities. Importantly, the minimum benefits for the Football Degenerative category is no less than $4,000 per month while the minimum benefits for the Inactive category is offset by any disability benefits provided by an employer other than the NFL or another employer. Thus, it is financially beneficial for a player to be placed in the Football Degenerative category.”