MIAMI -- Former NFL players should not be permitted to sue for damages over concussions they suffered because player safety issues have long been governed by the league's collective bargaining agreements, an NFL attorney said Thursday.
"You don't get to come to court," league lawyer Beth Wilkinson said. "They should go through the process that's laid out in the agreement."
Wilkinson spoke following a hearing before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is considering whether to consolidate 21 player lawsuits filed in six states before a single judge for pretrial matters. At least 300 former football players, plus an equal number of wives and other family members, are plaintiffs in the cases.
They include Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett, Lem Barney and Joe DeLamielleure and other stars such as Ottis Anderson, Mark Duper, Jim McMahon, Paul Krause and Marvin Jones. The vast majority, however, are lesser-known players. Some are suffering from degenerative brain diseases, depression and other mental ailments.
The six-judge panel made no immediate decision. Still, there was a clear consensus between player attorneys and the league to bring the cases to U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who sits in Philadelphia where the first player lawsuits were filed.
"We can't go wrong there," said attorney Michael McGlamry of Atlanta.
The players accuse the NFL of negligence and misconduct for the way it responded to players' concussions and complaints of dizziness, headaches and related problems. The lawsuits also contend the NFL deliberately downplayed the dangers of head injuries despite knowing the risks.
The lawsuits seek unspecified damages and some want the NFL to pay for medical monitoring of former players to watch for future problems such as dementia and memory loss.
Wilkinson said the league will argue in court that the lawsuits should be dismissed because of the labor agreements, which typically called for mediation or arbitration in player safety disputes.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press