In a striking move, the NFL struck an early settlement with the former players who were suing the league over misrepresentations about the potential risks of concussions for players. As this article from CNN notes, the players were alleging that the NFL had covered up and intentionally misrepresented the dangers associated with head injuries and concussions for past players.
While this case is certainly interesting, and has many broad implications for the future, I want to focus on this case to point out a key element of lawsuits and litigation: when parties settle, they typically do NOT accept guilt or responsibility. While the quotes in the CNN article (and other tweets I’ve seen about the settlement) seem to indicate that the NFL is finally stepping up to take responsibility, in technical terms, they are in no way accepting guilt by making this settlement.
This is a point that many clients simply do not understand when they first file a lawsuit. Many people, when filing a lawsuit, envision only the drama-filled courtroom trial that happens at the end of the case. But in reality, it can take years to get to a final trial–there is a great deal that comes before a trial ever happens. And, in the vast majority of cases, it becomes so expensive for the parties to continue that they make a business decision to settle the case. Likewise, in some cases (like this one with the NFL), the potential public backlash of a long trial is so great that it simply makes good business sense to strike a deal.
In truth, while most clients initially don’t like the idea of settling a case and compromising, settlements can present the best risk-reward balance in most cases. It is important for clients to realistically look at the situation and know that there is a good likelihood of losing at trial. While they may not get everything they want out of a settlement, the old saying rings true: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”