Image via KSDK
Last Wednesday, the NFL and their thirty-two owners settled with St. Louis, the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC), and the Regional Stadium Authority (RSA) for $790 million. St. Louis mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page decided to settle; the lawyers received the backlash due to their payout from this settlement, which turned out to be $276.5 million. In civil cases, the clients, here Mayor Jones, Sam Page, and the CVC and RSA, make the decision to settle, not the attorneys. The decision to take $513.5 million, after attorney fees, turned out to be the right decision. Frank Cusumano, lead sports reporter for the NBC affiliate, KSDK, spoke with former St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, and Mr. Slay believed the plaintiffs made the correct decision. Mr. Slay is speaking from experience, as he was on the plaintiffs’ side in the Exxon Valdez case.
In Exxon Shipping Co. et. al. v. Baker et. al., the jury at the trial court level awarded the plaintiffs $287 million in compensatory damages. The jury and an Anchorage, Alaska court punished the Exxon Corporation by assessing $5 billion in punitive damages.
Exxon appealed this judgment to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which reduced the judgment to $4.2 billion. Exxon appealed this judgment not to the U.S. Court of Appeals but to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court called this judgment excessive, and they reduced the punitive damages to a one-to-one ratio. The Supreme Court’s ultimate judgment on the punitive damages ended up being $500 million. The Supreme Court did not reduce the compensatory damages. The punitive damages were reduced from $5 billion to $500 million, a 10% judgment from what the trial court originally awarded to the Alaskan citizens.
In the St. Louis case, damages were reported to be in the billions, should this case have gone to trial and the plaintiffs won. Even so, as pointed out by Conduct Detrimental’s own Dan Lust, in an interview with 590 the Fan’s Bernie Miklasz, and local St. Louis media, the NFL would have appealed the circuit court’s ruling. It is certainly conceivable that the Missouri Court of Appeals could have reduced these damages to an amount below the $790 million settlement the parties agreed to last week. This type of NFL appeal at the circuit court level could take years and delayed any recovery accordingly. Not to mention the fact that a victory was never guaranteed t at trial or appeal. The point is settling now guaranteed a victory. It was a safe decision that ensured an immediate financial windfall. Can we really blame them for going that route?
St. Louisans can be frustrated that this never went to trial, that they lost out on a franchise team possibility (which STL attorneys might not have pushed strongly for as Dan Lust and others pointed out), and they never got to see the NFL “squirm” on the witness stand. The plaintiffs’ attorneys did air the NFL’s dirty laundry because they won almost every motion at discovery, and the NFL’s motions to either dismiss the case or send this case to arbitration were rejected by Judge McGraugh. St. Louis had a viable case, but as shown in the Exxon case, they took the best offer available to them without going through the trial process.
The best analogy I can use is an example from the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” On the show, some contestants are offered a “sure thing,” or they can take the curtain or big box. If they take the curtain or big box, they lose the “sure thing.” The curtain or big box can be a “Zonk,” which is a fake prize. In this case, the “sure thing” was the $790 million settlement, and the curtain or big box was the trial. It may have been the safer option but it does not necessarily mean it was the wrong option.
Alex Patterson is a 3L at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. He played football for seventeen years as an offensive and defensive lineman. He graduated from Lindenwood University-Belleville in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Sports Management. He can be followed on Twitter @alpatt71.