Missouri Law Could Spell Trouble for NFL’s Chiefs in New Concussion Lawsuit

The NFL and over 4,500 former players are currently attempting to negotiate a settlement in the massive multi-district concussion litigation against the league.  In brief, the plaintiffs’ accuse the NFL of intentionally downplaying and concealing the risks of concussions and the role of head injuries in later-life cognitive decline.  Negotiations to resolve the matter recently resumed after U.S. District Judge Anita Brody rejected a proposed $765 million settlement deal that had been reached by the parties.  Judge Brody strongly believed that this amount would be insufficient to compensate every plaintiff that had suffered a compensable injury.

Now, however, a group of ex-Kansas City Chiefs are suing the Chiefs’ organization itself rather than the league as a whole.  Normally, workers’ compensation laws in most states preclude employees (such as NFL alums) from directly suing their employers for injuries incurred on the job.  But one unusual law in Missouri does permit employees to bring civil suits against their employers for “occupational” injuries.  A recent Missouri Court of Appeals decision recently protected this law from a legislative amendment that would have brought Missouri more in line with other states and precluded suits like this one filed by the 22 former Chiefs.[1]

 Paul Anderson, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, insisted that the suit was necessary to protect his clients’ rights.  He stated, “We believe that the proposed settlement . . . is entirely inadequate, and it fails to compensate our clients.”  Among other things, Anderson’s lawsuit accuses the Chiefs organization of placing their players at risk for serious head injuries.  The petition explained that, on multiple occasions, players who had suffered a concussion provided with smelling salts and sent back out into the game.  The two main causes of action include: (1) the failure of the Chiefs to provide a safe working environment for their players; and (2) the Chiefs’ failure to warn their players of the latent risks of head injuries.

Anderson remained optimistic that some good would come out of the lawsuits, noting “Our hope is that the Kansas City Chiefs, and other organizations, [will] start placing the players’ health and safety over profit.”

[1] See State ex rel. KCP & L Greater Mo. Operations Co. v. Cook, 353 S.W.3d 14 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011)

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