Updated Feb 10, 2023 - Sports

10 former players sue NFL over "wrongfully" denied disability claims

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaking in Phoenix  on Feb. 8.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaking in Phoenix on Feb. 8. Photo: Anthony Behar/PA Images via Getty Images

Ten former NFL players filed a lawsuit against commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL's benefit plan and others on Thursday, alleging the league "wrongfully and arbitrarily" denied their disability claims.

Why it matters: The plaintiffs, including former star running back Willis McGahee, also allege the league has "a pattern of systematic bias" against disabled players that's "motivated by financial considerations."

  • The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seeks class-action status so other former plays can join.
  • It asks for the removal of the board overseeing the league's disability plan and for unspecified financial damages.

What they're saying: The plan's board, the lawsuit alleges, displayed "an overly aggressive and disturbing pattern of erroneous and arbitrary benefits denials, bad faith contract misinterpretations, and other unscrupulous tactics."

  • "Plaintiffs seek to pull back the curtain on behalf of all similarly situated former NFL Players, bringing many relevant factual and legal issues concerning the Plan to light," the lawsuit reads.

Brian McCarthy, the league's vice president of communications, said in a statement Thursday that the plan "is fair and administered by a professional staff overseen by a board comprised of an equal number of appointees of the NFL Players Association and the league, which includes retired players."

  • "The disability plan, which is established by the NFL-[National Football League Players Association] as part of the [collective bargaining agreement], includes an uncapped financial commitment to provide benefits for any retired player that meets the eligibility requirements set by the parties," he added.
  • "These eligibility requirements and administrative procedures were developed after consultation with occupational, mental and physical health experts. The plan annually provides more than $330 million to deserving players and their families."

The big picture: It also claims the league directed players seeking disability benefits to physicians receiving thousands of dollars in compensation from the plan's board.

  • "There is powerful statistical evidence that strongly suggests a systematic pattern that the more the Board pays a physician, the more likely the physician is to have a high rate of rendering opinions adverse to benefits applicants," the lawsuit says.
  • The lawsuit alleges that the plan's board broke the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by not fairly and fully reviewing denied claims and instead relying on the assessments from its own biased physicians.

Among the plaintiff's attorneys is Christopher Seeger, who specializes in multidistrict class action and mass tort litigation and has led major lawsuits against the NFL in the past.

  • Seeger was the co-lead counsel of a class-action lawsuit beginning in 2012 involving thousands of former players over the league's inability to protect its players from head injuries that may develop into dementia, Alzheimer's or other neurological disorders.
  • The NFL settled that lawsuit in 2013, agreeing to pay out $765 million to thousands of retired players for concussion-related brain injuries.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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