Aaron Hernandez’s Consortium Suit Added to Multidistrict Litigation

On February 5, 2018, a suit brought by Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, the fiancée of the late New England Patriots tight end Arron Hernandez, on behalf of Mr. Hernandez’s daughter, Avielle Hernandez, was added to ongoing multidistrict litigation against the NFL.

As we have continuously covered, Jenkins-Hernandez has tried to remand her suit from federal court to Massachusetts state court. She originally filed her suit in Massachusetts state court, but the NFL removed the suit to federal court. However, back in late January 2018, U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. decided to stay Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit and her motion to remand until a panel decide if it should add Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit to an ongoing multidistrict concussion litigation.

The panel decided to add the suit to the ongoing multidistrict litigation because Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit involved allegations that the NFL is liable for injuries sustained while Mr. Hernandez was playing professional football, including damages resulting from the permanent long-term effects of concussions. Further, Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit alleged that the NFL failed to warn and protect Mr. Hernandez against the long-term brain injury risks associated with football-related concussions and to regulate the sport so as to minimize the risk of such long-term injuries. Finally, like several other plaintiffs in the ongoing multidistrict litigation, Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit alleged that Riddell was also liable in connection with the sale and manufacturing of football helmets.

Jenkins-Hernandez opposed her suits inclusion into the multidistrict litigation. She argued that her suit is unique because she is not a member of the settlement class, her suit is an independent, non-derivative claim for loss of consortium, and her suit does not concern an alleged NFL-football-related injury because her suit is based on the NFL’s conduct over the entirety of Mr. Hernandez’s life. However, the panel ruled that whether or not Jenkins-Hernandez is a settlement class member will require interpretation under the settlement agreement, which is the task properly suited for the transferee court. Second, the panel ruled that even though Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit  may have a differing legal theory, it is not significant enough because her suit still arises from a “common factual core.” Finally, while Ms. Jenkins-Hernandez’s suit includes a period longer than Mr. Hernandez’s time in the NFL, her suit does cover the period when Mr. Hernandez played in the NFL. The overlap shares questions of fact with the multidistrict litigation concerning the NFL’s knowledge regarding the alleged link between repetitive head trauma, chronic brain damage, and the players participation in treatment.

According to the panel, the transfer will serve to convenience the parties, witnesses, and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.

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