With $1B at Stake, Insurers Pressure NFL to Divulge What It Knew About Concussion Risks

The NFL and its insurance companies are locked in a battle over a $1 billion claim resulting from a class-action lawsuit brought by former players alleging the league hid the consequences of head trauma for years.
By: | May 17, 2019

The NFL and its insurance companies are locked in a battle over a $1 billion claim resulting from a class-action lawsuit brought by former players alleging the league hid the consequences of head trauma for years.


The carriers want more information to determine if they’re on the hook for the payments — namely what the league knew and when it knew it.

Insurers have “commenced the process of enforcing ‘long-standing subpoenas’ for documents regarding head injuries from the NFL’s 32 teams,” according to  NBC Sports.

The article goes on to say that “the move comes amid a two-year fight over the limits of permissible ‘discovery’ in the lawsuit. The league avoided surrendering sensitive information regarding its knowledge as to head trauma by settling the class action. Absent a settlement with the insurance companies, the league could eventually be required to submit to an effort to test whether the payments made to former players fall within the scope of the insurance coverage the NFL purchased.”

Can the NFL win the dispute without disclosing head trauma information?

Apparently not.

NBC Sports reported that “the NFL in this case apparently wants the benefit of its insurance coverage without giving the insurance companies access to information that could be critical to determining whether or not coverage exists.”


Most insurance policies include a long list of coverage exclusions and other exceptions that can prevent payment from being made.

“It’s only fair for the insurance companies to be able to determine whether, for example, the league’s knowledge of the potential risks arising from head trauma coupled with any meaningful effort to warn players and/or to enhance safety make coverage unavailable,” wrote NBC’s Mike Florio.

Isn’t there plenty of evidence suggesting the NFL minimized the risk of head trauma over the years?

Journalists and former players say so.

In 2005, the league said in a scientific paper that “professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis,” according to best-selling book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for the Truth.

Meanwhile, hundreds of former players said the league hid the effects of brain injuries in the sport while still promoting the violent nature of the game.

For years, the NFL showed helmets crashing together and exploding in the opening credits of its signature program, Monday Night Football.

Meanwhile, football’s insurance market is evaporating.

The outcome of this claim will be significant, because the market for insuring football at all levels is fading fast.



The NFL no longer has general liability insurance and has just one workers’ comp provider — compared to 12 insurers in the pro football marketplace in 2011.

Even Pop Warner football is facing an insurance crisis. ESPN’s Outside the Lines wrote an  in-depth article about the problem — even talking with the one executive brazen enough to still offer coverage.

How will this $1 billon claim play out?

That’s anybody’s guess, but NBC Sports suggests that the “insurance companies hope to force the NFL to choose between opening the vault of information or accepting whatever offer the insurance companies are willing to make in order to make the case go away.”

But don’t expect the league to blink too soon.

“The league will try in response to continue to delay for as long as possible the moment at which it must choose between accepting the best offer from the insurance companies or facing the reality that certain potentially unfortunate secrets regarding head trauma will end up being revealed to the insurance companies and possibly in turn to the world,” Florio wrote. &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Matrix: Presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance

10 Severe Weather Risks Affecting Businesses’ Property and More

Every year, severe weather costs approximately $630 billion for the U.S. But this is not a property issue alone; several lines are feeling the strain.
By: | June 1, 2021

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]