Former NFL players are suing the NFL and Ridell Inc., the official helmet brand of the NFL, for concealing the harmful effects of concussions from players, coaches and trainers. The suit claims that the league knew of the risks that concussions posed to players as early as the 1920’s but did nothing to warn players until 2010.
The first question that comes to mind about this case is whether it possible that current NFL players didn’t know they were at risk of getting concussions, and the long-term effects that those concussions may have given the violent nature of the sport. It seems apparent that current NFL players should have been aware of about the risks concussions present because of media coverage on the issue. What’s less apparent is what former players knew about these risks.
According to the suit the NFL studied concussion research in 1994 and published findings as late as 2004 that attempted to show that there was no link between multiple concussions and worsening cumulative effects. These findings have been so completely debunked that in 2010 the NFL did a complete 180 and issued a warning to every team that concussions can lead to memory loss, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and dementia. Yet, even then the NFL did nothing to warn former players.
If former players did not know about and were not informed of the risk of concussions and their long-term effects by the NFL and Ridell Inc., the players may have a successfulproducts liability case. This is because the Restatement (3d) of Torts states that “oneengaged in the business of selling or otherwise distributing products who sells or distributes a ‘defective product’ is subject to liability for harm to persons or property caused by the defect.”
The Restatement (3d) of Torts creates three categories of defective product:
- A product is defective when, at the time of sale or distribution, it contains a manufacturing defect,
- Is defective in design,
- Or is defective because of inadequate instructions or warnings.
The third category is key in this case. Did these former players have inadequate instructions or warnings about the risk of concussions and their long-term effects? It appears that the former players may have a strong case for several reasons.
First, as the suit alleges, information about this subject has been available to the NFL since 1928 with the first cases of “punch drunk” boxers. Second, CTE which is a degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive trauma and concussions has been found in the brains of 93 percent of former NFL players studied at Boston University School of Medicine. CTE results in symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s but is caused by repeated brain trauma rather than genetics. Finally, the NFL’s 2004 study that claimed there was no causal link between repetitive concussions and worsening cumulative effects.
As hard as it may be to believe at first blush, it appears that former players have a legitimate beef with the NFL and Ridell Inc. Many former players were taking the field far too soon after getting a concussion and were not aware of the chronic and degenerative problems the injury could have later in life.
This case is like many products liability cases with the exception being that the plaintiffs are professional athletes. In the end though, the plaintiff’s attorneys must prove that that there were inadequate warnings on the package or product alerting users to the safety risks in order to be successful.