Now for part two of the interview with Christopher Seeger, the attorney for the 4,500 players and estates who settled with the NFL over the issue of head trauma and concussions in the NFL. (You can find part one here.)
The MMQB: You’ve had a lot of criticism from players since the settlement came down. Did you expect it?
Seeger: I have spoken to hundreds of players—at least a couple hundred players. The more I have spoken with them, and the more we have communicated about the deal, the more positive the reaction is. So let’s take a typical complaint. It’s somebody who assesses that he’s asymptomatic today, or not that seriously damaged today. And he says, ‘There’s no check in this for me.’ … But once we take them through the fact that this was the risk of the litigation … the negotiation resulted in us being able to secure monetary benefits for the most severely injured for many reasons … They need this money now and their family needs it. And then the next level of benefits that we were able to provide was this baseline assessment program—which will tell you definitively today where you stand and how you are. And if you are moderately neuro-cognitively impaired, there will be substantial benefits for you right now to prevent the problem. But God forbid that you should progress into that more severe category, this fund will be there for you. And then on top of that, once we explain that this is not the NFL’s disability programs—this is run by the plaintiffs. These administrators were selected by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. They’re the best of the best. They’ve worked on other deals. So the NFL doesn’t have input. And then on top of all of that, if you qualify for the NFL’s medical benefits under the 88 plan—the 2011 neuro-cognitive plan—you get them in addition to everything that’s going on … If you believe that you are moderately impaired, but you’re not in the realm of dementia, thank God, you can take your baseline tests and go apply to the 2011 neuro-cog program. And if you qualify there you’ll get anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 a month from the NFL’s established plan. So this is all interwoven.’’
The MMQB: You were accused by ESPN of trying to accept a 10 percent kickback for one player in the case, 79-year-old Billy Kinard. What was your reaction?
Seeger: “I’m still really upset and really troubled by that, because that’s an example of where—I’m sorry because it’s your profession, but I can criticize my profession too—that’s a case where a reporter got their teeth into a story and didn’t care about the facts. I’m probably going to upset that reporter. You know, we told him exactly what happened. The settlement was announced so quickly, and nobody in my office knew about it except for Dave Buchanan, my partner … Luckily, a partner of mine, who is very smart, overseeing it and never really had a chance to consult with me said, ‘Well, we just announced the settlement, so if people still want to retain us, put a sliding scale in there. Put that if the case settles, we’re going to reduce our contingent fee to 10%, and if the settlement doesn’t go forward, then we’re going to go back to one-third. When it got to my attention, I said, ‘No, no, no—we’re not doing that. Call the people you sent retainers to, and tell them that we’re going to represent them for free.’ Because we promised people that we were going to walk them through the settlement. So the bottom line was that we explained to the reporter that Seeger Weiss is not representing anybody, after this settlement was announced, for a contingent fee. Because we’re class counsel, we’re going help them, and if people contact us individually, we’re going to represent them for nothing.’’
The MMQB: The 10 percent thing was long before the settlement then?
Seeger: “No, the 10 percent actually happened. Just to be clear. A partner of mine, without consulting me, in his own head said, ‘Well we just announced that there’s going to be a settlement, so we’re not going to charge them the full one-third contingent fee. We’re going to reduce it to 10 percent.’ So they sent a retainer out to Kinard. When I found out about it … I said to the lawyers in my firm, ‘Write a letter and call these people. Tell them we are not charging 10 percent. That was like three or four cases where that happened … It was fixed before anyone made a complaint, and we said we’d represent them for free. We are not representing anyone after the settlement for a fee.’’