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NFL painkiller lawsuit dismissed

American football player running on the field

15 February 2017

California Federal District Court Judge William Alsup dismissed in part a class-action lawsuit filed by former NFL players who alleged teams forced players to ingest painkillers in order to keep them on the field regardless of the health risks posed and the potential long-term consequences. The complaint, filed against all 32 teams of the NFL, stated the teams’ main goal was to mask pain and conceal injuries. In July 2016, Judge Alsup refused to dismiss the lawsuit, despite the NFL’s protestations that the claims were barred by statutes of limitation.

Judge Alsup, however, rejected the players’ Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claims finding they were untimely and unsupported by facts. In his February 3, 2017 ruling, Judge Alsup stated that to prevail in a RICO claim, the players needed to demonstrate the teams conducted an enterprise through racketeering activity that caused the injury to players business or property. According to the ruling, Judge Alsup rejected the players’ contention that latent physical injuries harmed their business or property, a necessary condition for a RICO claim. Alsup also dismissed claims of conspiracy violating state law because the players failed to show “any agreement or understanding between the clubs to adhere to a return-to-play practice or policy.

Despite the other dismissals, Judge Alsup declined to dismiss state law claims of misrepresentation and concealment against eight of the 32 teams because specific stories cited in the complaint provided sufficient grounds to advance the claims past the motion to dismiss phase. The misrepresentation and concealment claims remain against the Lions, Raiders, Broncos, Packers, Seahawks, Dolphins, Chargers, and Vikings. The players are allowed until February 22, 2017 to file an amendment complaint.

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