NFL Potentially Takes Another Hit in the Concussion Litigation
The latest story in the NFL class action concussion lawsuit spells more potential trouble for the league. Late last week, news surfaced that the NFL’s retirement board had prior knowledge of the potentially devastating effects caused by long-term head injuries incurred throughout the course of a football career. In particular, the board’s at-issue report indicated that the league had paid more than $2 million in disability benefits to certain players who had suffered brain injuries, noting that one of those players (ex-Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster) had developed his disabilities while still “an active player.”
In essence, the underlying class action suit alleges that the league knowingly downplayed the risks of concussions and their potential to cause later-life cognitive decline. Previously, the league had maintained that through the late 2000s, it had no evidence demonstrating that concussions could lead to permanent health problems. However, the board’s report was issued in 1999, making it possible that the plaintiffs could now mount a convincing “failure-to-warn” claim against the league.
Still, not everyone is convinced that these admissions are necessarily a “silver-bullet” for the ex-player plaintiffs. For one thing, the league could attempt to establish that the NFL retirement board is independent of the league, and therefore cannot be imputed with having knowledge of the board’s findings. Further, based on the unique nature of head trauma-related injuries, the NFL could always assert that there are too many variables to simply apply the findings of Webster’s case to the 3,000+ plaintiffs currently embroiled in the MDL.
The league’s motion to dismiss the class action is currently pending before U.S. District Judge Anita Brody for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Substantively, the NFL’s motion asserts that as a controversy arising out of a collective bargaining agreement, the matter is a labor dispute that must be resolved through arbitration.