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$112.5M Fee Award in $1B NFL Concussion Settlement

April 6, 2018 | Posted in : Contingency Fees / POF, Fee Allocation / Splitting, Fee Award, Fee Expert / Member, Fee Request

A recent Legal Intelligencer story by Max Mitchell, “Judge Awards $112.5M in Total Attorney Fee in NFL Concussion Case,” reports that attorneys who helped hammer out the $1 billion settlement between the National Football League and former professional football players suffering cognitive injuries have been awarded $112.5 million for their work.  But, the judge has reserved for a later time her determination of the exact amount each firm will receive for its respective efforts.

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania awarded class counsel $106.8 million in attorney fees and $5.7 million in expenses in the NFL concussion case.  The amount conforms to class counsel’s fee request, and is also the number the NFL had agreed to pay without objection as part of the settlement.

In making the ruling, Brody lauded class counsel efforts, noted that class attorneys billed more than 50,000 hours for their work on the settlement, and said the fee award is only 11 percent of the total settlement.  “The performance of class counsel regarding the complex settlement has been extraordinary,” Brody said, noting that more than 20,000 class members are registered to participate in the settlement and more than 360 claims valuing over $400 million have been approved.  “The fees requested here are well-earned.”

Individual class counsel attorneys have requested as much as $70 million for their firm, but Brody said that issue, along with determining how much the court should withhold from players’ individual awards to cover costs and fees of implementing the settlement, “will be determined at a later date.”

In footnotes, Brody said she plans to make a determination regarding fee allocation to the individual firms after reviewing the numerous responses and replies that have been filed.  She added it will likely take a year to determine how much money should be held back from players’ individual awards.  “The court hopes to address this issue once more data regarding the scope of implementation work is available—ideally in one year,” Brody said in a footnote.

Class counsel have asked the court to hold back 5 percent of the award to cover implementation costs.  Brody also determined that fees for individual retained attorneys should be capped at 22 percent.  The ruling adopts the recommendations from William Rubnestein, a Harvard professor who had been appointed by the court to consider the issue.

Individually retained attorney are lawyers who represent the injured players, but are not part of class counsel.  Brody said their fees should be capped because “it is undeniable that all [individually-represented plaintiffs’ attorneys] have benefitted from class counsel’s work.” Brody added that she will grant deviations above the 22 percent cap only “in exceptional of unique circumstances.”

In October, Seeger Weiss attorney Chris Seeger, who is co-lead class counsel in the case, requested that the court allocate more than $70 million to his firm,  The money, according to the fee request, would compensate Seeger Weiss for a total of 21,044 hours his firm spent on the litigation since he was appointed to represent the class in 2012.

Attorneys from more than 15 firms including Anapol Weiss, which is home to Seeger’s co-lead class counsel, Sol Weiss, subsequently challenged Seeger’s proposal.  “We appreciate the court’s consideration of this matter.  The settlement is on track to lost the NFL hundreds of million, if not billions of dollars more than anticipated,” Seeger said in an email statement.  “We will make sure that former NFL players and their families receive every benefit they are entitled to under this agreement.”