By Scott Malone
(Reuters) - The family of former San Diego Chargers star Junior Seau, who killed himself in 2012, raised objections on Friday to a $760 million proposal to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of former professional football players charging that the National Football League downplayed the risk of concussions.
Seau's family said the deal, which a federal judge earlier this month rejected as not setting aside enough money for such a large group of people, fell short by not treating people with wrongful-death claims differently from those who had simply been injured.
The proposed settlement set aside up to $5 million for each former player diagnosed with a certain brain condition resulting from years of repeated hits to the head in NFL games and practices.
For family members of retired or deceased NFL players, however, the proposed settlement would offer a minimal payment amounting to a few thousand dollars, attorneys for the Seau family said.
Some 4,500 former players were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Philadelphia, and up to 20,000 could ultimately be eligible for payment.
Seau, named to the Pro Bowl 12 times over his two decades in the league, died in 2012 after shooting himself in the chest. A study of his brain found that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain condition caused by repeated hits to the head that can lead to aggression and dementia.
The Seau family attorneys argued that any eventual settlement of the concussion lawsuit must take into account the needs of the survivors of players who died as a result of injuries sustained during play.
"Mr. Seau's children have their own claims for the wrong the NFL did to them. His children are not suing for their father's pain and suffering, they are suing for their own," the attorneys wrote.
When Judge Anita Brody earlier this month rejected the settlement offer, legal experts said the league and plaintiffs would likely have to negotiate a higher settlement amount to allay concerns that there be sufficient funds to meet the needs of former players with brain injuries.
The Seau family attorneys asked Brody to take their objections into consideration in evaluating future settlement proposals.
Seau is among a handful of current or former NFL player to have committed suicide in recent years. While their deaths could not be directly connected to the sport, violent or erratic behavior is consistent with symptoms of CTE.
A growing body of academic research into the repeated hits to the head that are a part of football, hockey or other intensely physical sports shows those hits can lead to CTE.
The research has already prompted the NFL to make changes on the field, including a ban on a player's use of his helmet "to butt, spear or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily." It also requires teams to keep players who have taken hits to the head off the field if they show certain symptoms including dizziness and memory gaps.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)