Zuckerman Spaeder Partner Cy Smith Named Law360 MVP of the Year

Zuckerman Spaeder is pleased to announce that partner Cy Smith has been named a Law360 MVP of the Year in the Benefits category. 

Law360’s MVPs of the Year recognized attorneys “who had extraordinary wins and contributed most to their practice area in the past year.” The publication explained that Mr. Smith “helped pioneer litigation in the 2000s that linked football players' post-career disabilities to their repeated concussions on the field, and he hasn't slowed down since, with his recent work on behalf of National Football League retirees among the accomplishments that landed him a spot as one of Law360's 2022 Benefits MVPs.”

For nearly two decades, Mr. Smith’s legal work has helped advance the national effort to address football head injuries and ensure that retired players get full and equitable benefits. In 2020 he began a new fight – challenging the role of race in the 2015 pro football concussion settlement.

Mr. Smith, along with partner Aitan Goelman and co-counsel Justin Wyatt, sued the League for its use of race-based norms in benefit determinations as part of the landmark 2015 concussion settlement. The NFL was applying different sets of data based on race when processing ex-players’ “cognitive function” test scores, and the lawsuit argued that this made it much harder for Black retirees to receive benefits.

The lawsuit, which was brought on behalf of two retired players, sent shockwaves through the country and became one of the biggest off-the-field sports stories in recent years. And for good reason: of the 20,000+ retired players registered in the concussion settlement, more than half are Black. 

After nearly a year of extensive legal and public pressure created by Mr. Smith’s efforts, the NFL eventually relented and agreed to end its use of race-based norms. Mr. Smith then helped deliver an agreement that eliminates race-norming in concussion benefit determinations, and importantly, allows for the re-scoring of test results for Black retirees previously evaluated in the settlement process. 

The legal effort led by Mr. Smith resulted in an outcome that will be potentially life-changing for many players, but its impact is being felt beyond sports. As part of the legal strategy, Mr. Smith and his team generated significant public and political attention on the fundamental unfairness of race-based norms, and that attention has encouraged a broad re-examination of their use. 

Law360 also recognized Mr. Smith for achieving another significant outcome in a lawsuit related to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) acquisition of Altoona Regional Health System. Before the deal closed, Altoona’s actuary, CBIZ, produced a report that misstated the debt of the health system’s pension plans by almost $100 million. Mr. Smith’s lawsuit on behalf of UPMC led to a four-week trial and, just before jury deliberations began, he obtained a $41.5 million settlement.

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Katie Munroe
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