23 October 2017
The country’s largest helmet manufacturer, Riddell, filed a motion to dismiss on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, in a suit brought by a class of former high school football players in August. The players allege Riddell’s negligence, failure to warn, and design defects caused the athletes’ current long-term brain and neurocognitive injuries. Riddell argues the players’ design defects claim is contradicted by their complaint that also cites a 2002 product label that warned “[c]ontact in football may result in concussion-brain injury which no helmet can prevent.” Riddell also argued the suit should be dismissed because it was outside the two-year statute of limitations, none of the players live in California, and the players failed to identify which helmets were worn and what injuries or symptoms allegedly occurred.
About 60 percent of NFL players wear helmets made by the Riddell, who invented the modern hard-shell football helmet in 1939. Riddell tests its helmets out with 3-D scanning technology and by smashing, dropping, freezing, and heating helmets to test the limits of their protective capabilities. But the scientific evidence linking head injuries to chronic traumatic encephalopathy has created an uphill battle, as researchers do not believe helmets can ultimately solve the problem. Studies showed players who participated in youth football before age 12 had an increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems later life. Over the last five years, youth football participation has declined by 12 percent nationwide, and high school level participation has dropped by nearly four percent nationwide.
This is not the first time football players have thrown concussion-related suits at Riddell. It is already currently defending its products and reputation in suit filed by lawyers for the late New England Patriots Aaron Hernandez, which alleges the NFL hid the dangers of football and names Riddell. Former high school and college football players filed against Riddell in January 2017, alleging the company claimed a scientific study showed its helmets significantly reduced the risk of concussions compared to other manufacturer’s helmets. This may be the same study Riddell brings up in this current motion to dismiss, done by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, showing a 31 percent reduction in concussion risk compared to “traditional” helmets. The prior lawsuit claimed the study was funded by Riddell.
In 2013, a Colorado jury found that Riddell was 27% at fault for failure to adequately warn players wearing Riddell helmets about the dangers of potential concussions. Riddell paid over $3 million to the 22-year-old plaintiff who had been injured while playing high school football. That jury, however, rejected claims that there were design defects in Riddell’s helmets. The company remained “steadfast in [their] belief that Riddell designs and manufactures the most protective football headgear for the athlete.” Counsel for Riddell in this current lawsuit stated, “Plaintiffs’ recycled allegations ignore the more than 15 years of work by Riddell, government agencies, sports leagues, schools, industry groups, and others to enhance concussion awareness and safety.”