SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The NFL and about 4,500 former players have tentatively agreed to settle lawsuits over brain injuries, such as one suffered by the late Chargers star linebacker Junior Seau.
The $765 million settlement was reached following mediation in Philadelphia. It still requires the approval of a federal judge.
Under the agreement, the NFL and NFL Properties will provide medical benefits and injury compensation for retired NFL football players, fund medical and safety research, and cover litigation expenses.
"This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players," NFL Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash said. "Commissioner (Roger) Goodell and every owner gave the legal team the same direction: do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it."
Pash said it was critical to get more help to players and families who deserve it rather than spend many years and millions of dollars on litigation. He called the agreement an important step that builds on changes made in recent years to make the game safer.
Seau's family filed a lawsuit in January in San Diego Superior Court, and it was later folded into the federal case.
The Oceanside resident, who grew up in the North County seaside city, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May 2012. His son said he suffered from wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression that got progressively worse over time.
An examination of Seau's brain by federal health officials determined that he suffered from a debilitating brain condition common to people who have suffered repetitive head injuries.
The listed plaintiffs on the Seau lawsuit are Gina Seau, Seau's ex-wife; their children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of his estate.
The office of one of the family's lawyers, Steven Strauss, said they had no immediate comment on the tentative settlement.
Former federal Judge Layn Phillips, who presided over the mediation, said the "historic agreement" will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it. He said it would also promote safety for players at all levels of football.
"Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed," Phillips said.
Once final documentation is completed, the settlement will be filed with U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, who will schedule a hearing to consider whether to grant preliminary approval to the agreement. If the settlement receives preliminary approval, the judge will direct the parties to distribute notice to the retired players.
After giving retired players an opportunity to file objections to the settlement, she will hold a hearing to consider whether to grant final approval. The judge is expected to issue the precise schedule within a few weeks.
THIS IS A STORY UPDATE. For an earlier AP story, read below.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The NFL has reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.
A federal judge announced the agreement Thursday after months of court-ordered mediation. It came just days before the start of the 2013 season.
More than 4,500 former athletes — some suffering from dementia, depression or Alzheimer's that they blamed on blows to the head — had sued the league, accusing it of concealing the dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field while glorifying and profiting from the kind of bone-jarring hits that make for spectacular highlight-reel footage.
The NFL has long denied any wrongdoing and insisted that safety has always been a top priority. But the NFL said Thursday that Commissioner Roger Goodell told pro football's lawyers to "do the right thing for the game and the men who played it."
The plaintiffs included Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Pro Bowler Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.
Under the settlement, individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer's disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia, said lead plaintiffs' lawyer Christopher Seeger.
Any of the approximately 18,000 former NFL players are eligible.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia announced the proposed agreement and will consider approving it at a later date.
The settlement most likely means the NFL won't have to disclose internal files about what it knew, and when, about concussion-linked brain problems. Lawyers had been eager to learn, for instance, about the workings of the league's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was led for more than a decade by a rheumatologist.
In court arguments in April, NFL lawyer Paul Clement asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuits and send them to arbitration under terms of the players' contract. He said that individual teams bear the chief responsibility for health and safety under the collective bargaining agreement, along with the players' union and the players themselves.
Players lawyer David Frederick accused the league of concealing studies linking concussions to neurological problems for decades.
In recent years, a string of former NFL players and other concussed athletes have been diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Those ex-players included Seau and lead plaintiff Ray Easterling, who filed the first lawsuit in Philadelphia in August 2011 but later committed suicide.
About one-third of the league's 12,000 former players eventually joined the litigation. They include a few hundred "gap" players, who played during years when there was no labor contract in place, and were therefore considered likely to win the right to sue.
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
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