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View Full Version : Mile Webster's Family Wins Ruling on Disability Claim With N.F.L.


Atlanta Dan
12-13-2006, 11:25 PM
This is from an article in The New York Times:

Seven years after [Mike] Webster filed a disability claim with the National Football League, his family won a federal appeals court ruling yesterday against the league’s pension plan, which had denied Webster an active football disability pension and paid him a lesser benefit.

In a 3-0 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a 2005 trial court ruling that Webster was totally and permanently disabled as a result of brain injuries from playing professional football. The ruling will result in an award of $1.5 million to $2 million to Webster’s four children and former wife....

According to the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle N.F.L. player retirement plan and supplemental disability plan, which are jointly administered by a pension board of three league club owners and three representatives of the N.F.L. Players Association, retired players receive benefits based on years of service and the timing of injuries.

After Webster retired and filed his disability claim for his head injuries, the league gave him a disability plan for players who develop injuries six months after they retire, which falls under a degenerative disability plan.

The Webster estate moved to reclassify his disability as occurring at his retirement, which would place him in a more lucrative active disability plan. Fitzsimmons said the active disability plan paid roughly twice what the degenerative disability plan paid.

“We hired several physicians and they all said Mike had been disabled since March of 1991,” Fitzsimmons said. “Despite all of that evidence, the pension board said no. Just because Mike showed up at a few autograph signings, people would say, ‘He isn’t injured, he was engaged in gainful employment.”

The court ruling came at the expense of the six-member N.F.L. pension board, which had voted, 6-0, to keep Webster at the degenerative disability plan.

“All six trustees of the plan saw it differently,” an N.F.L. spokesman said of the court ruling. “The judges decided to overrule their unanimous decision.”

Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the players association, said if the six-member board was presented with a similar situation with another retired player, it would follow the same course of action it took with Webster.

“These benefits have no face,” Upshaw said in a telephone interview. “The trustees must follow what the plan said and it’s very seldom that there is disagreement on this. We all feel badly for what happened to Mike Webster, but, obviously there are a lot of players who go through similar circumstances. But you don’t just award a benefit to someone going through a tough time. That’s not how it works. He wasn’t denied benefits. It was the question of when those benefits should have started. We took one position, they took another, and the courts told us their position.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/14/sports/football/14webster.html?ref=sports

Congratulations to the Webster family for battling the owners and NFLPA through trial and appeal. While the owners treating players like high priced but disposable sides of beef is no shock, it is a scandal how the NFLPA, the lap dog "union" for the only pro sport where the players' contracts are not guaranteed, so regularly sells out the players and sides with management.

83-Steelers-43
12-14-2006, 12:32 AM
Appeals panel gives Websters win in disability case
Ex-Steelers' family wins disability case
Thursday, December 14, 2006

By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



The late Mike Webster won his final NFL confrontation yesterday and sent the league's Disability Plan to what is believed to be its first defeat in appellate court, seven years after he began the fight and four years after his death.

"It's been a very, very long" sojourn, son Garrett Webster, 23, said over the telephone from Wisconsin, where the attorneys representing his father called to inform him that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had just upheld a lower court's ruling in the family's favor. "It started in 1996-97, when the whole [disability] process started. But, really, it's been going since 1991."

The panel of three appellate judges yesterday unanimously affirmed an April 2005 ruling that Mike Webster, a former Steeler and a Hall of Fame center, was totally and permanently disabled from an NFL career spent from 1974-88 with the Steelers and in 1989-90 with the Kansas City Chiefs.

U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles of Baltimore, where the NFL Disability Plan is headquartered, found 20 months earlier that the Plan board should have given the player known as Iron Mike back payments from March 1991, and he awarded the Webster estate $1.18 million in such benefits. The Plan board appealed, and the 35-page ruling yesterday -- by two Richmond, Va., judges and a visiting judge from South Carolina who heard oral arguments in mid-September -- found similarly to Quarles that the board "abused its discretion in denying Webster" full benefits.

With accrued interest, attorney fees and court costs yet to be computed and agreed upon, the total award may reach as high as $2 million.

The Plan board could still appeal the ruling yesterday, but it would be heard in the same court. Douglas Ell, the Washington attorney who represents the Plan, didn't return telephone messages. "I think this is probably the final chapter," Cy Smith, co-counsel for the Webster family, said from his Baltimore office.

"After all this time, it seems like they'd find some way to weasel out of it," Garrett Webster said. "But it doesn't look like they'll be able to do it."

The victory by the Webster estate was, to them, a resounding one on two fronts. First of all, it is considered the first time that the NFL has lost a disability case on appeal. Secondly, it may well set a precedent in brain-injury cases for a sport with, as Garrett Webster put it, "hundreds of violent collisions a day."

"I'm very excited, not only for the Webster family but all the NFL players that in particular had head injuries -- for them, it gives them some hope," said Bob Fitzsimmons, the co-counsel who set aside the basement of his Wheeling, W.Va., office for Mike Webster to write and work toward his disability case before his 2002 death. "There is an avenue to take to adequately compensate their work-related injuries."

Fitzsimmons added, "Mike's spirit has still been around and covered the case. This is a private battle that meant a lot to him. I'm sure he's smiling right now that he was able to beat the NFL in something that was very personal and meaningful to him and his family."

The monthly disability payments will go to his children: Garrett; Colin, 27, a Marine with a wife and family living in North Carolina; Brooke, 29, and Hilary, 19, who live in Wisconsin with their mother, and Pam, 55, who divorced Mike shortly before his death.

Garrett Webster, a Moon High graduate who plans to move back to the Pittsburgh area next summer, said he and his siblings aim to start a scholarship or a brain-injury awareness fund in the city where their father carved his reputation.

"We're definitely going to use some of this money to pay back" Pittsburgh, he added.

"It's nice that we won, because somebody had to win it first," Garrett Webster continued. "I think it's no secret now. I am glad that's the one thing our case exposed: I think the NFL and the Players Association are a joke. ... It's the player's union and the NFL against the players.

"You're glad to show them that there is some hope and you can beat a system that is there for you, but apparently is not."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06348/746043-66.stm

james203
12-14-2006, 03:14 AM
the nfl should be ashamed of themselves.

Infamix
12-14-2006, 06:54 AM
That is ridiculous...how stingy can the NFL get

fansince'76
12-14-2006, 08:28 AM
And yet the NFL has no problem in continuing to pay OJ Simpson a $25,000-per-month pension....

tony hipchest
12-14-2006, 11:46 AM
... and by the way, if there was any doubt as to whether this guy deserved every penny, here's the series that ESPN did on his troubles a year or two ago...

]cool. thanks for the links. i found this shocking:

Desperate for a few moments of peace from the acute pain, repeatedly stunning himself, sometimes a dozen times, into unconsciousness with a black Taser gun. "The only way he could get to sleep," said Garrett.

PisnNapalm
12-14-2006, 01:07 PM
... and by the way, if there was any doubt as to whether this guy deserved every penny, here's the series that ESPN did on his troubles a year or two ago...

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1972285

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1972286

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1972287

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1972288

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1972289


Reading this is enough to make you cry. I knew things were bad for him after football but.... That is a living nightmare.

james203
12-14-2006, 02:50 PM
the pro football players make a pretty good income compared to the early yrs.webster was a center & i dont know how much a center makes.the steeler organization didnt help him out as well as the nfl.it was sad when he got cut from the steelers & went to kc.he sure was beat up.football is a VERY tough sport.what makes me sick is the amount of money the basketball players get paid & what they get away with.i dont care for basketball & i despise the showoff cry baby LA lakers.kobe bryant pretty much runs the team & when the lakers lose..look out.not very long along a pro basketball player from a team im not sure of actually ran into the stands & confronted some white male that was talking to the ball players wife.he didnt get fined or anything.anyways..im off the subject.mike webster is @ peace now & the nfl should be held accountable for their actions.i bet they pocket some of the money they get from players fines.

sumo
12-14-2006, 03:14 PM
The NFL is the greatest professional sports organization there is when it comes to producing their product -- taking care of the players is a whole other matter -- it's inexcusable for the NFL to not have a disability benefit in place for cases like this - Upshaw should have been replaced years ago --- every other hazardous profession in the US with any kind of union takes care of its employees ...

sumo
12-15-2006, 12:18 PM
That's a good point; pro football players do make a lot more these days. The average career is still pretty short, but a guy who was good enough to make it in the league for 17 years might be in a little better position. I don't think Webster ever made more than half a million in a year, and his money was all gone pretty fast.

It sounds like part of what happened to Webster might have been because he just drifted so far away from everyone that they didn't know the extent of how bad he had it. In the stories I read, occasionally one of his old teammates, or the Steelers organization, would be shocked to find out the state he was in and try to help, but it sounded like he was either too proud or too far gone mentally to take advantage of it.

Overall, I don't think I could think of a sadder ending to his story, especially when you have all the great things he accomplished on the field to compare it to.

Unfortunately, Mike Webster was in a horrible state towards the end of his life - if you look at the stats concerning the homeless - close to 80% of them have a mental illness leading up to their financial collapse and desperate situation - Mike was no different and the people close to him did know his situation, but offered help in the form of autograph signings, appearances etc and that was not what he needed...he should have had a benefit/finacial assistance in place and medical care - I know this is going to get a lot more attention because there are a lot of players in similiar situations now..

Tim
12-15-2006, 12:56 PM
Iron Mike was the first Steeler I ever met in person when I was about 7 years old. My Dad finally took me to training camp, this would have been, 1975, maybe 1976.

He was one of my favorite players and when we played sandlot games, I always wanted to be the center. His life after football was simply one of the most tragic things I had ever heard.

I'm glad the family stuck it to the NFL. And I hope no other currently retired player or future retirees have to face this sort of thing from the league ever again.

Atlanta Dan
12-15-2006, 01:00 PM
Unfortunately, Mike Webster was in a horrible state towards the end of his life - if you look at the stats concerning the homeless - close to 80% of them have a mental illness leading up to their financial collapse and desperate situation - Mike was no different and the people close to him did know his situation, but offered help in the form of autograph signings, appearances etc and that was not what he needed...he should have had a benefit/finacial assistance in place and medical care - I know this is going to get a lot more attention because there are a lot of players in similiar situations now..

I got the impression that one reason the NFL and NFLPA fought so hard against any determination that Webster was disabled when he retired, with a consequent major increase in the disability payout, was that given the fact that so many NFL players experience significant brain trauma during their careers a significant number of players will qualify for the bigger payout.

Hence Upshaw's shot across the bow to any future claimants when Upshaw said any future claims for brain disability having cccurred at the time of retirement will be denied just as Webster's claim was, after which the player will need to file suit, win at trial, and then win on appeal. The next player that has a disability claim denied needs to sue Upshaw and the NFLPA for breaching their duty of fair reprersentation to the players.

nicesteel4life
12-16-2006, 04:43 PM
AMEN and We all know Webby is looking down from heaven saying "I told you So"