The six-year-old daughter of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had sued the NFL for damages resulting from head trauma. That lawsuit will not proceed.
Via the Associated Press, Judge Anita Brody — who presided over the broader concussion settlement — has concluded that separate litigation cannot occur because Hernandez failed to opt out of the class action before a key 2014 deadline, forcing him to remain part of the class and, in turn, part of the settlement.
As legal rulings go, it’s a fairly simple conclusion. Once the tentative class-action settlement was reached in 2013, the parties and Judge Brody established a series of dates, one of which was the deadline for former players to choose to go it alone. The parties and the presiding judge also created a specific and detailed procedure for letting all potential members of the class know that: (1) they are members of the class; (2) the class has reached an agreement on a settlement; and (3) if the members of the class want to file their own lawsuits, they must preserve their right to do so before a clear and precise date. (In this case, that date was July 7, 2014.)
Although the opening line of the AP item clumsily places blame for the blown deadline on Hernandez’s six-year-old daughter, the truth is that Hernandez and whoever was representing his interests failed to preserve his right to sue individually more than four years ago, while Hernandez was alive and fully in charge of his interests. Of course, the top item on his legal docket at the time related to a pair of murder cases involving the deaths of three men. The last thing Hernandez would have been thinking about was whether he should take steps to preserve his ability to add another piece of litigation to the mix, based on what ultimately was only three years of NFL football.
In an effort to preserve the right to sue, lawyers representing Hernandez’s daughter argued that he wasn’t actually retired as of July 7, 2014, because he hoped to be exonerated and return to pro football. Judge Brody concluded that, as a practical matter, Hernandez’s football career was over at that point.
The so-called “loss of consortium” lawsuit filed by Hernandez’s daughter, which would have sought compensation for the fatherly interactions, support, and influence that necessarily ended when he died, is separate from any rights belonging to Hernandez himself. Still, with Hernandez not preserving his ability to separately sue the NFL before the July 2014 deadline, neither he nor any family members will be able to seek compensation from the league for his death.
Even if Hernandez’s daughter’s lawsuit had proceeded, it would have been a difficult one to prove. Hernandez entered the NFL after its October 2009 concussion epiphany, years after the league had stopped shouting down and otherwise ignoring the potential consequences of head trauma. Also, the lost relationship between Hernandez and her daughter necessarily was undermined by the fact that he likely would have spent the rest of his life in jail, if he had lived.