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Attorney David Frederick, center, speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, April 9, 2013, in Philadelphia, after a hearing to determine whether the NFL faces years of litigation over concussion-related brain injuries. Listening, from left Eleanor Perfetto, the widow of former NFL player Ralph Wenzel; Lisa McHale, the widow of former NFL player Tom McHale; former NFL player Kevin Turner, Frederick, Mary Ann Easterling, the widow of former NFL player Ray Easterling, and former NFL players Dorsey Levens, and Bill Bergey. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
US judge in Philly weighs NFL concussion suits
NFL » Judge’s decision could be worth more than a $1 billion
First Published Apr 10 2013 01:21 pm • Last Updated Apr 11 2013 12:28 am

Philadelphia • Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody has a billion-dollar problem on her hands.

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Brody, of Philadelphia, heard arguments Tuesday on whether lawsuits that accuse the NFL of glorifying violence and hiding known concussion risks belong in court or in arbitration.

Brody could side with the 4,200 players and let them pursue lawsuits, or she could rule for the league and find that head injuries are covered under health provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

Or she could issue a split decision, letting some of the fraud and negligence claims against the NFL move forward in court. Her decision could be worth more than a billion dollars — and is expected to be appealed by either side, spawning years of litigation.

"There are people who aren’t going to be able to be around long enough to find out the end of this case, and my husband is one of them," said Eleanor Perfetto, the widow of guard Ralph Wenzel, who played for Pittsburgh and San Diego from 1966 to 1973. "He died last June, and I’m here for him. He was sick for almost two decades and, in the end, had very, very severe, debilitating dementia."


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In the closely-watched court arguments Tuesday, NFL lawyer Paul Clement insisted that teams bear the chief responsibility for health and safety under the contract, along with the players’ union and the players themselves.

"The clubs are the ones who had doctors on the sidelines who had primary responsibility for sending players back into the game," Clement said at a news conference after the hearing.

The players argue that the league "glorified" and "monetized" violence through NFL Films, thereby profiting from vicious hits to the head.

Players’ lawyer David Frederick also accused the league of concealing studies linking concussions to neurological problems for decades, even after the NFL created a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in 1994. The panel was led by a rheumatologist.

"It set up a sham committee designed to get information about neurological risks, but in fact spread misinformation," Frederick argued.

In recent years, scores of former NFL players and other concussed athletes have been diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, including popular Pro Bowler Junior Seau and lead plaintiff Ray Easterling. Both committed suicide last year.

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