Willis McGahee among former NFL players who sue league’s benefits plan – The Washington Post

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, where the NFL benefits plan office is located, and seeks class action status on behalf of thousands of former players. The suit seeks unspecified financial damages and the removal of the plan’s board, which consists of six voting members — three each representing the NFL and the union — as well as Goodell as a seventh, nonvoting member. The NFL and the NFLPA both did not reply to requests for comment Thursday. The NFL benefits plan’s attorneys at Groom law firm in D.C. also did not reply to a request for comment.

In a news conference Thursday, McGahee, 41, said his personal physician told him he has arthritis in his joints similar to that of an “80-year-old man.” But, according to the suit, his six-year odyssey to obtain disability payments — which involved multiple evaluations by well-compensated plan physicians with high rates of failing to find player disabled — ended last year in denial.

“After years of putting their bodies and brains on the line with the NFL’s promise of assistance should they need it, these former players deserve far more than a sham process in which there is little to no chance of success,” said the four law firms involved in the case, including Seeger’s, in a statement. “It is shameful that an organization worth billions of dollars is depriving former players of their rightful benefits.”

In a statement for that story, the NFL disputed The Post’s findings and asserted the plan had never “improperly decided” a disability claim, despite rulings by judges in six lawsuits that found the plan wrongly denied claims, and three additional cases in which judges identified problems in how the plan reviewed claims.

Thursday’s lawsuit accused the NFL’s plan of lying to former players by referring to its doctors as “neutral physicians,” and the attorneys on the case said they have collected records and data showing what league retirees and their lawyers have long suspected: that the plan doctors who make the most money also are the least likely to find players disabled.

For example, the suit claims: over the course of the same time frame in 2015 and 2016, doctors who earned more than $137,000 found players totally and permanently disabled at a rate of 0.5 percent, while doctors earning between $52,000 and $60,000 found players disabled at a rate of 27 percent. Compensation figures for plan doctors is publicly available in financial disclosure forms, and attorneys on the case who have represented players compiled data about how plan physicians dealt with their clients.

McGahee, the most accomplished player named in the suit, played 10 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and two other teams, twice earning Pro Bowl nods before retiring in 2014. In 2016, the suit states, McGahee applied for total and permanent disability payments from the NFL plan, citing both symptoms of cognitive problems he believed were caused by concussions, as well as ailments relating to orthopedic injuries he suffered during his playing career.

McGahee was evaluated by a neurologist who had been paid nearly $1.5 million from the plan, according to the suit. The neurologist did not find McGahee qualified for any of the league’s disability payments, according to the suit, which asserts the same neurologist also failed to diagnose a disability in 33 other retirees.

In 2020, McGahee reapplied for disability benefits, the suit states. Over the next two years, McGahee was evaluated by four plan physicians — a neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist and orthopedist — who all had made hundreds of thousands or more from the plan and failed to diagnose players with disabilities at high rates, according to the suit. None qualified him for disability payments, and the plan ultimately denied his claim in November.

Lance Zeno, a former Cleveland Browns center, also accused the plan of wrongfully denying his claim. Doctors who evaluated Zeno outside of the plan’s network diagnosed him with early to moderate dementia, the suit asserts, but two NFL plan doctors — who had each earned more than $1 million from the plan over the years — failed to qualify him for disability payments, and the plan denied his claim.

Former New York Jets safety Eric Smith, also among the retirees suing, said in Thursday’s news conference that injuries he suffered during his playing days left him with chronic migraines and joint and back pain that also ended his football coaching career. Many days, Smith said, he finds himself in too much pain to play with his two young sons.

Headquartered in Baltimore, the NFL benefits plan is independent of both the league and union, who fund the plan’s operations and appoint volunteer three members each to the plan’s board. While the plan’s disability payments appear generous on paper — with payments ranging from $65,000 to $265,000 annually for qualifying retirees — former players have complained for decades that the claims process is rigged against them, due to biased doctors and excessive red tape.

Charles Dimry, a former cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons and four other teams over 12 seasons, twice defeated the plan in court to earn his full disability payments, a legal quest that took six years. In those cases, judges repeatedly criticized the plan’s board for giving more weight to opinions issued by their doctors, noted the possibility of bias, and ultimately forced the NFL plan to approve Dimry’s claim.

This content was originally published here.

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