Football, as the saying goes, is a contact sport. It may therefore come as a surprise to learn that a number of professional football players have sued the National Football League and helmet manufacturer Riddell over concussions suffered during games. In all, 125 former players have filed suit in at least five separate complaints, alleging that the NFL failed to properly warn players of the risks of head injuries and to provide support for retired players. Concussions in sports, particularly professional football, have received heightened scrutiny recently in both the media and in Congress, with many statistics suggesting that the number of concussions has increased significantly.
A concussion is a common type of brain injury caused by an impact with the head making the brain collide with the inside of the skull. This can lead to both physical and cognitive symptoms, ranging from headache and dizziness to disorientation and attention deficits. A person who suffers from a concussion may not lose consciousness, and many concussions go undiagnosed because the injured person does not realize the injury’s severity. Multiple concussions over time can cause significant brain damage, including memory loss and dementia. The NFL began to pay serious attention to concussions in 2009, and in February 2011 it announced new guidelines to gauge whether an injured player should continue to play.
The lawsuits consist of a class action suit and three personal injury suits in California state court and a case in a federal court in Pennsylvania. The suits essentially allege that the NFL has a duty to inform players of all risks reasonably associated with their job duties and to support players injured in the course of their job duties. In this situation, the players’ “job duties” involve practicing for and playing football. Lawyers for the players say that they hope to use the lawsuits to improve safety standards for all players, to prevent future injuries, and to get compensation for the players’ injuries.
To prevail on their claim, the players would have to prove that the NFL had knowledge of risks inherent in the game not available to an ordinary prudent person, and that the players did not assume the risk of injury by agreeing to play the game. An argument in the players’ favor, perhaps, is that they did not have the ability to refuse to perform certain job functions, since these would occur in the middle of games and players are contractually obligated to play.
The argument in favor of the NFL would likely be that the players knew that football carries risks of injury. A defendant in a personal injury case can use a defense known as “assumption of risk,” which states that an injured person knew the risks of an activity by did it anyway, and that the defendant should not be liable for the injured person’s decision. The NFL could furthermore argue that professional players have a greater amount of knowledge of the risks than a non-player, and therefore they should be held to a higher standard than an “ordinary prudent person.”
The Washington DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people who have suffered injuries due to defective products or unsafe conditions. Contact the firm today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.
Concussion in Sports, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Washington DC Traumatic Brain Injury Can Cause Depression and Sleep Problems, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, May 25, 2010
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