NFL Painkiller Case Allowed to Proceed

On Friday, July 1, 2016, a lawsuit brought by former National Football League players against all 32 NFL teams regarding reckless distribution of painkillers was allowed to proceed by Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California. Judge Alsup had denied a similar case in 2014 on grounds of preemption by the collective bargaining agreement, but allowed this case to continue to the discovery phase of litigation because each team is named individually as a defendant as opposed to the NFL as a whole.

The lawsuit was filed by more than 1,500 ex-players in May of 2015, and claims NFL teams administered painkillers while misrepresenting side effects of the powerful medications. The players allege when team trainers or doctors were asked about side effects, the response was that the drugs were good for them and they shouldn’t worry. The complaint states doctors and trainers provided “injections and pills, often not telling the players what they were receiving, (and) misstated the effects of medications.” The result has been a laundry list of medical issues for former players, including addiction and prolonged side effects lasting long into retirement.

The players also allege coaches — including reputable names Don Shula and Mike Holmgren — pressured them to play in games when the players were in serious pain, and threatened to cut them if they chose not to play. According to the players, this was part of a “return to play culture” that has been rampant in professional football since the 1960s.

This lawsuit comes at a time when the NFL is just getting over extensive litigation regarding concussions and head trauma which resulted in a large settlement. The NFL teams’ push for dismissal was denied last December.

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