Posted on July 21, 2011 · Posted in Brain Injury

Retired pro football players, who allege that the National Football League ignored mounting evidence of the long-term brain damage caused by concussion, are playing hard ball with the league.

This week those 75 retired NFL players filed suit in Superior Court in Los Angeles against the NFL and Riddell, which manufactures helmets, according to The New York Times. The plaintiffs include Ottis Anderson, who had playd for the Giants, and Vernon Dean, who had played with the Washington Redskins.

The lawsuit is trying to hold the NFL liable for over the years downplaying growing evidence that head injuries cumulatively lead to permanent brain damage. It wasn’t until 2010 that the league warned players about the long-term effects of concussions, which mean retired players never got any warning. And many of them are paying the price now.

The suit alleges that the NFL didn’t “regulate practices, games, equipment and medical care so as to minimize the long-term risks associated with concussive brain injuries.” As a result, these veteran players contend that they now suffer from memory loss, headaches and other side effects from their years of playing.

NFL officials have no one to blame but themselves for this litigation. The NFL created a committee on concussions in 1994, and it aggressively supported the position that concussions didn’t cause lasting brain damage.

Nonetheless, the NFL told The Times that it will “vigorously” fight the lawsuit.

As The Times pointed out, the players have filed their suit while the NFL is close to reaching a new contract with players. Part of that new deal has clauses that aim to limit the chance of brain damage during off-season workouts.

The NFL has already made changes to protect players from the long-term damage of concussions. But it wasn’t exactly a noble action. The league didn’t aggressively make changes until after a Congressional committee in 2009 put a national spotlight on the NFL’s mishandling of concussions.

For example, nowadays a player believed to have sustained a concussion is  benched for the rest of the day, and can’t return to the field until he gets clearance from an independent medical expert.

The suing players are seeking unspecified damages for injuries that they incurred while playing in the 1980’s. It may be hard to prove that the NFL should have been warning these players about the impact of concussions back then.

But it seems that the NFL should pay a price for not just ignoring reports about the dangers of concussion, but publishing studies that claimed that mild brain injury didn’t pose a long-term threat to players.


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447