'Master complaint' says NFL hid brain injury links

A master complaint combining dozens of existing lawsuits accusing the NFL of failing to provide information linking football-related head trauma to irreparable memory loss, brain damage, and other debilitating long-term health issues was filed in federal court in Philadelphia on Thursday.

The lawsuit names more than 3,000 plaintiffs, according to a legal source with direct knowledge of the situation, with approximately 2,500 players among that total, and the remainder being made up chiefly of players' wives filing for loss of spousal support.

There were 86 lawsuits filed by more than 2,300 players in the last year, according to a league source, and a judge in Philadelphia was assigned to come up with one complaint.

The master complaint is not a class-action lawsuit, but rather is a standard part of multi-district litigation. Multidistrict litigation allows for the consolidation of lawsuits that have common factual issues, and allows for more efficient handling of pretrial issues, such as discovery requests and pre-trial motions.

The multidistrict litigation allows for separate trials and settlements for the plaintiffs in the different lawsuits, while a class-action lawsuit binds all members of the class to the result of a single trial or settlement. This would allow ex-players suffering to get different rulings or settlements than those who are asymptomatic, and give leeway for the legal system to treat each group of plaintiffs separately.

The court's schedule provides the league with the opportunity to raise issues with the master complaint by June 19 and set August 19 as the date for the league to file a motion to dismiss the case.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement: "Our legal team will review today's filing that is intended to consolidate plaintiffs' existing claims into one 'master' complaint. Any allegation that the NFL has sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's many actions to protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said the union is keeping track of the lawsuit, but declined comment on the matter because it is not a party to the case.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer