And in NFL News . . .
Here’s an interesting little case out of the Fourth Circuit this week concerning what, at this point, must be the world’s most famous long term disability plan, namely the NFL’s Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan. This plan has been the subject of much media commentary over the past few years, as former players have come forward to complain about the benefits available under the plan to long retired players and as stories, like this one here concerning former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, have come to light involving questionable decision making in denying the claims of long retired players. I recently reviewed the disability benefits terms of the plan for other purposes, and it is frankly a pretty interesting document, with a lot of room for ambiguity in its application. This stems from the fact that the plan provides different types or levels of benefits depending on when a former NFL player became disabled, including how long after ceasing playing in the league the incapacity set in. The plan recognizes that the nature of professional football can result in long term injuries that may not manifest themselves in disability until years, in some instances many, have passed from the time the player retired from the league, and different benefits can kick in depending on when in that time period the player’s disability, originally stemming from injuries incurred while a player, finally arose and disabled him. Deciding when in that long stretch of time the retired player’s long ago on-field injuries finally manifested themselves in an inability to work, i.e., in permanent and total disability, is a difficult undertaking, rife with room for disagreement. And that’s exactly what this new case out of the Fourth Circuit, involving former Bears linebacker Wilber Marshall, is concerned with, the sheer difficulty of making the determination. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the medical evidence did not support the dating of that event given by the board that administers the plan, and pushed the date further back, resulting in an award of additional benefits to the retired player.