Thursday, August 30, 2012
Here's How The NFL Will Someday End...
Still, it might be right out of the "Y2K Apocalypse - The Movie!" screenplay. You know, the one in which airplanes falling out of the sky because somebody 60 years ago never though to write out code for the year in four digits.
Just never happened. For lots of reasons.
Which is why this "End of Football" scenario could also fizzle, for any number of seen and unforseen mitigating events and/or circumstances.
If these cases ever get to trial it might not be difficult for plaintiffs' attorneys to find former players, trainers and even team doctors who recount being told to get players back onto the field even though they showed troubling signs of confusion and disorientation. Trial lawyers are already examining movies produced by NFL Films glorifying violence, with titles like "Big Blocks and King Size Hits," and "Moment of Impact."
The NFL is a highly visible industry, but not nearly as rich as you might think. Its total revenues are estimated at $9 billion. If the league ever faces the prospect of going before a jury in these cases, it will almost certainly try to settle, but that won't be cheap. Unlike a business that admits to a dangerous work environment or faulty product and then fixes it or gets out of that particular business, the NFL can't just walk away from the contact which is essential to the game.
So any settlement will have to include not just compensation for those now injured, but a trust fund for those who are retired and might develop conditions later in life, as well as some kind of ongoing trust fund for those now playing and future players. Don't bank on the NFL simply forcing future competitors to sign a waiver not to sue. Putting a multimillion dollar contract in front of a 22-year-old kid and telling him he can get the big dough if he just gives up his right to sue 30 years from now might be seen by judges and juries as a form of coercion.
Going to trial, however, may be even more expensive because lawyers are likely to seek punitive damages against the league beyond the cost of medical care. This is where our tort system can especially turn into a runaway train. Already, some lawyers are trying to get cases, like the wrongful death case filed by the estate of Dave Duerson, remanded back to state court, where juries are more likely to hand out such awards. The sight of 50 year old men, once robust and athletic, now looking enfeebled and confused, will make former NFL players among the most sympathetic adult tort victims in recent memory, I suspect.
It is no exaggeration to say that industries around the world fear America's civil justice system because it is unlike any other country's in its ability to produce class-action litigation that drags on for decades and delivers bankrupting judgments. If professional football can't win a quick dismissal of these suits, one day the ‘L' in NFL may come to stand for litigation.
Well now, isn't that a cheerful way to begin the season!