Riddell Concussion Update: Helmet Company Thrown Back into NFL Suit
Between January 27 and February 3, 2016, US District Judge Anita B. Brody handed down two new orders in the seemingly never-ending NFL concussion suit. The first decision was actually a reversal of one of Judge Brody’s previous ones, turning over her December 2015 decision to sever claims against helmet-maker Riddell, Inc., who is being targeted by the former players in the suit for making an inferior work product that caused, or at least did not properly prevent, concussion and other head injuries on the field. The players’ claims against Riddell also include aiding the NFL in failing to reveal the long-term health risks associated with head trauma and actively trying to conceal testing information that showed NFL players, by virtue of the nature of the sport, were more susceptible to suffering concussions and that the helmets designed by Riddell did little to prevent such injuries.
The second order filed by the court mooted the bid of some players to have their portion of the claims transferred to California state court, the site of where their alleged injuries occurred.
The decisions are of interest to the NFL concussion suit as a whole because when Judge Brody granted final approval of an uncapped settlement between the League and the class of former players last April, the deal did not include Riddell. The settlement cannot move forward until all pieces of the lawsuit have been ruled on – a process that could still take years in court, as participants on both sides lodge motion after motion to attempt to increase/decrease the amount the League and its co-defendants will ultimately be liable for.
Riddell had requested severance from the federal suit in 2012, and in December Judge Brody granted it on the theory that while the claims had related to the helmets the company supplied to the NFL, they needed to be severed because many of the former players wore different types/models during their playing days, and it would need to be shown how liable Riddell would be to individual plaintiffs based on their helmets’ susceptibility to head injuries.
Relatedly, Riddell is also facing a separate proposed class action suit in West Virginia federal court by a youth football league on similar claims that the equipment manufacturer failed to properly worn against concussions and misled parents by asserting their helmets reduced the risk of head trauma compared to other companies. That case is currently stagnating, as Riddell attempts to dismiss the allegations against it.