By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A federal judge in Philadelphia on Monday granted preliminary approval to a settlement between the National Football League and thousands of former players who have brain damage and dementia as a result of concussions suffered on the field.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody comes two weeks after the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million ceiling it had placed on payments to former players who were part of a groundbreaking lawsuit over head injuries experienced during their time in the league.
Brody had denied an earlier settlement motion in January, saying the $760 million deal, which capped cash payments at $675 million, did not set aside enough money for the former players.
In granting preliminary approval, Brody has set off a massive campaign to notify up to 20,000 former soccer players or their heirs of the settlement, roughly 5,000 of whom have already joined in the lawsuit. The former athletes can reject or accept the settlement at a hearing set for November.
Under the revised terms between the NFL and the former players who brought the suit, payments of up to $5 million will be guaranteed to any retired player who develops the neurological illnesses.
Payments will be based on a formula that considers years played in the league and age at diagnosis. The fund is set to last 65 years from the date it is authorized.
A growing body of academic research shows collisions on the field can lead to a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can lead to aggression and dementia.
The research has already prompted the NFL to make changes, including banning the most dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits and requiring 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 Daniel Kelley; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Beech)