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NFL removes concussion suit to Chicago's federal court; MDL remains pending in Philadelphia

By Andrew Thomason | Jan 6, 2014

A lawsuit over the ongoing controversy surrounding concussions and professional football players has been removed to a larger legal arena in Illinois.

The National Football League (NFL) earlier this month filed a notice to remove a suit brought in December by former football player Raymond Brooks from Cook County Circuit Court to Chicago’s federal court.

The removal notice came just a few days before the NFL today filed documents in a Philadelphia court detailing a proposed $765 million settlement in multi-district litigation (MDL) created to handle thousands of former players' concussion claims.

Like those plaintiffs, Brooks and his wife, Allison Brooks, allege the league was negligent and fraudulent in how it dealt with his brain trauma. Their eight-count suit also names Riddell Inc., a helmet manufacturer, as a defendant.

Brooks spent four years in the NFL in the early 1990s as a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, according to the complaint that notes he sustained documented and undocumented concussions during his stint in the league.

As a result of the brain trauma he suffered, Brooks claims he now lives with anxiety, headaches, occasional short-term memory loss, confusion, mood swings, reduced concentration and cognitive issues.

“The NFL failed to prevent, diagnose and/or properly treat Raymond Anthony Brooks' concussive brain traumas throughout his career," his suit alleges. "Following documented concussions, the NFL never warned Raymond Anthony Brooks that playing through concussions could, and would, cause permanent brain damage."

Examples of retired NFL players acting out of character, suffering from mental disabilities because of brain trauma and even committing suicide due to their injuries are laid out in Brooks’ 30-page-plus suit.

Stories and claims like Brooks’ have become so prevalent over the past few years that the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings regarding the linkage between the NFL’s policies on concussions and players’ brain trauma in 2009.

Brooks' suit alleges an ongoing pattern of the NFL denying any linkage between how it handled players’ concussions and lasting brain damage.

“Despite knowledge of the above incidents and extensive literature, the NFL refused to acknowledge that chronic brain damage in former NFL football players was an epidemic that constituted a national health crisis,” he asserts in his suit.

Brooks' suit includes five counts against the NFL for negligence, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations and loss of consortium, as well as three counts against Riddell for strict liability, negligence and loss of consortium.

Each of the eight counts in his suit seeks $50,000 in damages.

The NFL on Jan. 3 filed a notice to remove Brooks' suit from circuit court to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois based on a collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and Brooks.

The NFL claims in its notice that the case falls under the federal Labor Management Relations Act because the Brooks’ allegations involve medical care and safety, which were covered by the 1993 collective bargaining agreement.

In its removal notice, the league notes that two other federal courts “considering allegations similar to those alleged here recently determined that the NFL properly removed complaints brought by former NFL players because resolution of their concussion-related negligence claims was substantially dependent on, and inextricably intertwined with, an analysis of [collective bargaining agreement] provisions concerning medical care and treatment of NFL players."

At least one case similar to Brooks has been filed in Cook County Circuit Court. Robert Douglass and John Cornell, two former NFL players, filed their suit on Nov. 4 against the NFL and Riddell.

Electronic court records show that their case was transferred to Chicago's federal court in November and last month, removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is handling the MDL that was created to deal with concussion claims against the NFL.

As of today, records show Brooks' suit remains in Chicago's federal court and that no requests have been made to transfer it to the pending multi-district litigation.

More than 4,500 former players have sued the NFL over the past few years, claiming that the league covered up the dangers of concussions. A tentative agreement was reached several months ago, when the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to cover the players' medical costs, compensate them for their injuries and for research.

Since then, more suits have been filed and negotiations over the specific details of the settlement have continued. Today, documents were filed outlining exactly how the proposed settlement would be divided among the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who is presiding over the concussion MDL, must approve the settlement in order for it to take effect.

Like with most settlements, she will hold a final fairness hearing before deciding whether to approve the proposed agreement and the plaintiffs will be given a window of time in which they can object or opt out of the settlement.

Brooks' suit was filed by John F. Winters Jr. at Winters Salzetta O'Brien & Richardson LLC in Chicago.

Jeffrey Baltruzak of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP in Chicago submitted the NFL's  removal notice, which lists a handful of other attorneys as counsel for the league in Brooks' suit.

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