NFL fans in New Jersey and around the country know that football is a violent game. The league’s retirement plan was established to provide benefits to retired NFL players who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions caused by years of playing the game, but a group of 10 former football stars claim that the application process is rigged. In a class action lawsuit filed against the NFL, the former players claim that the retirement plan does not meet standards laid down by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The lawsuit seeks to recover the disability benefits that the players were denied and calls for the members of the NFL’s disability board to be replaced.
The former players’ class action lawsuit describes a disability application process that their attorneys have referred to as byzantine. After filling out an application form, attaching a legal brief and submitting their medical records, a former player seeking disability payments must wait until a coordinator is assigned to their case. Two doctors appointed by the league then meet with the former player and forward their conclusions to a claims committee. This committee decides whether the claim should be approved or denied. Players can appeal a denial, but they have to wait at least a year to reapply if their appeals are unsuccessful.
Conflicts of interest
The attorneys representing the former players claim that this elaborate process violates the standards for ERISA disability plans established by federal law. They also allege that the team doctors who make disability decisions have financial incentives to deny claims unfairly. NFL doctors are paid more than $200,000 per year to evaluate former players, and 60% of them have never approved a disability claim.
A long road
The group of former football players suing the NFL over denied disability claims have a long road ahead of them. Up to six months could pass before the discovery process begins, and a civil trial could be more than a year away. Cases like this one attract a lot of media attention, which is why the two sides are likely to settle before they go to court.