More NFL retirees approved for dementia claims in rescored tests

Original article from the Associated Press published on ESPN

PHILADELPHIA — Two years after a pair of former players sued the NFL over the treatment of Black retirees in the league’s $1 billion concussion settlement, hundreds of men whose medical tests were rescored to eliminate race bias now qualify for awards.

The newly approved payouts, announced in a report Friday, are a victory for NFL families in the decade-long legal saga over concussions. The 2020 lawsuit unearthed the fact that the dementia tests were being “race-normed” — adjusted due to assumptions that Black people have a lower cognitive baseline score. Changes to the settlement made last year are meant to make the tests race-blind.

The new results will add millions to the NFL’s payouts for concussion-linked brain injuries. A league spokesman did not return a phone call Friday or respond to emails sent in recent weeks seeking comment on the rescoring.

Of the 646 Black men whose tests were rescored, nearly half now qualify for dementia awards. Sixty-one are classified as having early to moderate dementia, with average awards topping $600,000, while nearly 250 more have milder dementia and will get up to $35,000 in enhanced medical testing and treatment, according to the claims administrator’s report.

Former players, lawyers and advocates say they will turn to getting the word out to more players who could receive awards.

“Our work has produced some great results and has opened many eyes,” said Ken Jenkins, a former running back who, along with his wife, petitioned the federal judge overseeing the settlement to make the changes and urged the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate. “Now we’re really focused on getting as many players who deserve compensation to be compensated.”

This first group of players had the best chance of success because they otherwise passed the testing protocols and would have qualified if they were white. Thousands of other Black former players can ask to be rescored or retested, but their cases might not be as strong based on earlier results for dementia, validity and impairment tests. About 70% of active players and 60% of living retirees are Black.

The fact that the original testing algorithm adjusted scores by race — as a rough proxy for someone’s socioeconomic background — went unnoticed for several years until lawyers for former Pittsburgh Steelers players Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport sued the league. Factors such as age, education and race have long been used in neurology to help diagnose dementia, but experts say the formula was never meant to be used to determine payouts in a legal case.

“In 2022, how can you possibly think that another human being comes out of the womb with less cognitive ability? It’s just impossible to believe that that can be true,” Jenkins said. “It’s unspeakable.”

Advocates fear that many former players don’t know they can be rescored or retested, especially if they have cognitive issues and live alone.

“Men who are homeless, men who originally signed up but their cognitive function changed, men who are divorced or isolated — we are going to go looking for them,” said Amy Lewis, Jenkins’ wife.

The couple, once critical of class counsel Chris Seeger for his response to the issue, are now working with him to get the word out.

Seeger, the lead lawyer for the nearly 20,000 retired players who negotiated the settlement with the NFL, has apologized for initially failing to see the scope of the racial bias. He vowed in a recent interview to “make sure the NFL pays every nickel they should.”

The league’s tally just passed $1 billion in approved claims. However, appeals and audits mean the actual payouts lag behind that number and stand at about $916 million. They include awards for four other compensable diagnoses: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and deaths before April 2015 involving chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

As reviewers tackle the thornier dementia claims, the process has slowed and audits and appeals intensified.

“Their mantra is deny, deny, delay until you die,” said James Pruitt, 58, a wide receiver who played for Indianapolis and Miami from 1986 to 1991.

After his NFL retirement, Pruitt became a teacher and middle school principal in Palm Beach County, Florida. But in 2010, in his mid-40s, the district asked him to step down. He could no longer perform his duties.

Over time, he stopped calling on friends from his playing days.

“I don’t get out, and I don’t remember a lot of things. I’ve been told that I repeat things,” he said. “So I’m kind of embarrassed by the whole situation.”

After the settlement was approved in 2015, Pruitt and his wife attended meetings with the lawyers who traveled the country to pitch the plan to retired players’ groups.

“We were told … this was going to be a very easy process, you just need to go to the doctors, get a qualifying diagnosis from them,” said Traci Pruitt, 42. “Yet here we are six years later, and we’re still getting the runaround.”

The couple was twice approved by doctors only to have the decision overturned — once after their first doctor was removed from the program. Their lawyer believes they will be successful on their third try, under the race-neutral scoring formula. They are still waiting to hear.

Traci Pruitt, an accountant who works from home, said an award would ensure she gets the help she needs to care for her husband.

“While I love him, I don’t necessarily have that background and skill set,” she said.

Seeger said he believes the claims process is picking up steam after a slow start.

“I know folks have said they weren’t moving that well for a while. I think we’ve won some appellate battles with the courts,” Seeger said. “I don’t think the NFL expected to pay $1 billion — and we’re about to cross $1 billion.”

Tom Baumann Discusses Workers Compensation in Pittsburgh

Tom Baumann discusses his landmark workers compensation victory – Mary Ann Protz vs. Workers Compensation Appeal Board – and other aspects of treatment for work-related injuries with Workers Compensation Experts.

Baumann’s work in the Protz case voided the use of the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association’s Guide to Evaluation of Permanent Injuries as a reason to reduce severely injured workers status – and benefits – from permanently disabled to partially disabled.

“Our state does a reasonable job compensating minimally and moderately impaired workers,” Baumann said, “but the severely impaired … NO!”

The Pennsylvania legislature undid the court decision a year later, though the impairment rating level to move people from permanent to partial disability was reduced from 50% to 35%.

“It was a partial victory,” Baumann said. “A lot of people who had their benefits unfairly

reduced, saw total disability benefits reinstated. With the subsequent bill reducing the level to 35% impairment, more injured workers qualified for total disability benefits and that was a positive development. You’re always trying to come up with novel ways to help your client and I think we did that.”

Baumann goes on to discuss signs workers should see that their case needs help from an attorney; what workers compensation attorneys actually do to make a difference in the case’s outcome; and why it’s worth having an attorney on your side in a workers compensation claim.

Find the complete article here: Workers Comp in Pittsburgh

James Burn, Susan Paczak, and Douglas Williams Named Partner at Abes Baumann

New partners build on the firm’s more than 40-year history of fighting for workers’ rights

Abes Baumann announced today that attorneys James Burn, Susan Paczak, and Douglas Williams have been named partners at the firm. This appointment elevates the three lawyers after years of dedicated service to the firm and its clients. 

Mr. Burn has more than 30 years of experience in the areas of workers’ compensation and social security disability, and has dedicated his professional life to helping injured people. Martindale Hubble ranks him, “AV,” the highest ranking that can be given to a practicing attorney. Prior to joining Abes Baumann, he was elected mayor of the Borough of Millvale, Pa. in 1994 and served until 2005; past chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Party from 2006 to 2011; Allegheny County Council member from 2006 to 2013; and he is the former chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Outside of the office he has been training and teaching at Young Brothers Tae Kwon Do Institute in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, being promoted to sixth-degree black belt by Grand Master Young Bo Kong in 2020. A 1985 graduate of Duquesne University, he earned his J.D. from the University of Dayton in 1988.

“Jim has spent his career fighting tirelessly for injured people,” said Thomas C. Baumann, partner, Abes Baumann. “His dedication to his clients and community make him the ideal partner to help build the future of our firm.” 

Mr. Williams has spent more than 25 years experience in workers’ compensation law. He began his career as a law clerk at Abes Baumann, he has also clerked for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, researching and drafting decisions for workers’ compensation judges. Mr. Williams currently serves on the Amicus Committee of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, writing friend of the court briefs to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth and Supreme Courts on a variety of issues.  A 1991 graduate of Grove City College, he earned a J.D. from Duquesne University in 1996. 

“Doug began his career as a law clerk at Abes Baumann,” added Mr. Baumann. “It has been a true honor and delight to see him grow his career as an attorney at the firm. He represents the best of our firm and I am thrilled to have him join me as a partner.” 

Ms. Paczak has spent more than 30 years in the areas of workers’ compensation, social security and veterans’ benefits. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980 and earned her J.D. from Duquesne University, graduating cum laude. Her experience working with veterans allowed the firm to launch its successful veterans’ benefits practice, which helps the nation’s veterans get the benefits and support they have earned. Ms. Paczak has argued precedent setting cases before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

“Susan’s work in veterans’ benefits has provided our firm with the opportunity to grow and expand our offerings,” continued Mr. Baumann. “Her dedication to the men and women of our nation’s armed services is a shining example of how we hope to serve all of our clients.” 

Doug Williams recognized again as a top lawyer by Best Lawyers in America

Doug Williams’ outstanding work in the area of workers’ compensation law has once again been recognized by Best Lawyers in America. The peer-reviewed publication named Williams to their 2021 edition for his high caliber of work. Since 2010, Williams has made the list six times. 

Best Lawyers in America features the top 6% of private practicing attorneys across 146 areas of law. The 2021 edition recognizes roughly 65,000 attorneys who were vetted by more than 8 million evaluations. The publication started in 1983 and continues to maintain a highly regarded and stringent review process. 

We congratulate Doug’s ongoing excellence in workers’ compensation law and on achieving this designation once again. 

Tom Baumann featured in Tribune-Review article, provides expertise on workers’ compensation challenges with coronavirus

Partner Tom Baumann’s 35 years of experience with workers’ compensation law was highlighted when he was interviewed in a recent Tribune-Review article concerning coronavirus in the workplace.

Read the article below to learn more about new workers’ comp challenges and Baumann’s perspective on one recent case concerning an Allegheny County prosecutor who was denied workers’ comp after he contracted coronavirus.

Attorneys appointed to national sports unions workers’ compensation panels

James Burn and Douglas Williams join the workers’ compensation panels of the NFLPA and PHPA.

Our firm is pleased to announce two tremendous appointments to professional sports union legal boards. Congratulations to James Burn and Douglas Williams who were named to the workers compensation panels of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA), respectively. 

“Both Doug and Jim have been relentless advocates for workers’ rights and have spent a significant amount of time working on these types of cases. This recognition highlights the caliber of work they have been doing and will continue to do,” said partner Thomas Baumann. 

Burn and Williams’ appointments come at a time when professional sports organizations are seeing significant challenges due to COVID-19 and may require additional representation. This designation exemplifies their ongoing dedication to the sports industry and its players, and we are proud of their accomplishments.

Congratulations, Jim and Doug! 

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