The NFL Settlement Makes Me Want to Bawl

by Amy Goodwin on August 29, 2013

Corporate Defense
At one point in my career, when I was trying to make it as a screenwriter, I took a job as a legal secretary at a big law firm here in Texas. I worked in corporate defense litigation. My father had been a lawyer. He had connections, so it wasn’t hard getting a job. My duties were pretty straightforward. I typed a lot of motions. I submitted billing. I sent incoming filings to the file room. I made sure outgoing filings got to the courthouse on time with the right return envelopes. I did my job mechanically, with little interest. Then one day I read one of the petitions sitting on my desk.

A man’s family was suing his employer, one of our clients, a huge insurance company. The man had been a maintenance man for the insurance company. He had been exposed to asbestos for an enduring period of time. He’d contracted a pulmonary disease and died an excruciatingly slow and painful death. The family, via the plaintiff attorney, was seeking damages. I thought, this family doesn’t stand a chance.

I looked around me. I was surrounded by litigators, all top graduates from the top law schools in Texas. They were dedicated to representing this big insurance company. They were brilliant lawyers. They worked on cases like this tirelessly. The cases might last for years. There were rooms filled with miles of discovery. There were teams of file clerks working in file rooms meticulously recording and filing every piece of evidence. There were paralegals helping the lawyers. All were paid handsomely. And the bills I was sending out…bills for 100K, 200K a month, they were paid on time and mostly without question. Corporate defense firms, I came to learn, were big, beautifully run, magnificent machines, and they tend to grind up individuals. I had recently lost a close family member to pulmonary disease, so I knew what pulmonary death was like. I immediately began identifying with the plaintiff’s family. Suddenly the unfairness of the situation overwhelmed me; I hate an unfair fight. And the next thing I know I’m in a bathroom stall, sitting on the floor bawling my eyes out. A few days later I resigned.

Assisted Living
Another aging family member of mine recently began showing signs of cognitive decline. Enter another big, magnificent grinding machine called assisted living, where again, the individual doesn’t stand a chance. Rooms are $5K a month, unfurnished. Medication Management is $500 a month. There is one “caregiver” available to 40 residents per floor. That caregiver is a minimum wage worker with little formal training. The resident with cognitive decline, of course, needs a much higher level of care than this one overburdened caregiver can provide, so the assisted care facility requires a “sitter” for waking hours. And sitters are $20.00 an hour, or $200.00 day, or $1400 a week or $5600 a month. Hence your monthly bill for a resident with cognitive decline in Texas at a fine assisted living establishment is $ 11K a month. And inevitably the medication is not “managed”. The sitters do not “sit” like they are supposed to. So on top of 11K a month, and the shell of a loved one, the family must “manage” the assisted living. I spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom bawling over this machine as well.

NFL Settlement
People keep asking, why would the NFL plaintiffs settle for so little? Given the two machines at work here, I have to say I’m proud they lasted as long as they did.

I wish someone would do some research on the corporate defense firm or firms representing the NFL. How many lawyers are working the case? What are the monthly bills? How many floors of discovery are there? How many file rooms are dedicated to the case? I’m sure it would blow everyone’s mind. The NFL has the money and the lawyers to drag this case out for decades. The plaintiffs don’t. First consider the plight of a plaintiff attorney. They work on contingency. Plaintiff attorneys have to make money. They can only go so long on contingency before they deplete their resources. If the payoff is too far in the future, they get nervous. They want out. I read in the NYT article by Ken Belson, “The NFL also agreed to pay legal fees for the plaintiff’s lawyers, a sum that could reach tens of millions of dollars.” I am certain as part of the NFL settlement, the NFL is going to have to pay these legal fees promptly. The plaintiff’s attorneys would never have agreed to have their legal fees be paid out over twenty years.

So again, with all these machines at work, the last place finishers are, of course, the plaintiffs. The system is set up that way. The plaintiffs, those suffering from cognitive decline- ALS, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease- they never had a chance. The suffering these players and their families have endured and are enduring is incomprehensible to most of us living. They don’t have the strength to be deposed. They don’t have the time for testifying. They are too busy fighting off decline, going to doctor’s appointments, grieving, managing their “help.” As they watch their life savings deplete at a staggering rate, a measured amount of money over twenty years is more help than they’re getting now, so they’ll take whatever gesture the NFL makes.

Thankfully now, rather than sitting on the bathroom floor and bawling about it, I can turn to my website.

But I still hate an unfair fight.

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