Riddell, Inc. and its legal team are apparently fed up.
That was evident when the helmet maker responded to the latest concussion lawsuit, this one filed January 31 by the Fort Worth law firm Circelli, Walter & Young, PLLC, which hopes that its complaint (Adams v. Riddell, Dist. Court, ND California, No. 3: 13-cv-00457) “could ultimately compensate thousands of former high school and college athletes for brain damage sustained while playing football.”
Riddell was incredulous.
In response, that same day, it issued a statement, noting that “the latest lawyer-driven concussion lawsuit comes more than five years after the first of these cases was filed in July of 2011.
“Nowhere in their rambling 43-page complaint and accompanying press release do plaintiffs acknowledge that a previous NCAA player lawsuit containing similar allegations was voluntarily dismissed last year after multiple failed attempts by the lawyers behind that case to plead successful class claims against Riddell,” the company noted, even citing that suit in case the law firm had not seen it — DuRocher v. Riddell, Dist. Court, SD Indiana, No.1:13-cv-01570.
After making its “late to the bandwagon” argument, Riddell went on to attack the law firm bringing the suit, albeit not by name.
“Overt lawyer self-promotion and meritless litigation like this harms not only good organizations like Riddell, it harms the game of football and the many millions of participants whose lives have been enriched by the benefits of sports participation,” according to Riddell. “This latest copycat complaint, likes the ones preceding it, demonstrates little regard for the implications that sensationalized allegations have on the sport and the millions of people who benefit from it.”
In its press release, Circelli, Walter & Young seemed to suggest that it cares more about its plaintiffs than the “game of football.”
In addition to Riddell, it named the NCAA as a defendant, claiming they both “failed to protect high school and college football players from long-term head injuries and did not educate them about the risks.” The lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Indiana, the home of the NCAA, and in California, home of Riddell.
The centerpiece of its argument against the NCAA is that “the collegiate sports governing body, self-described as ‘dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes,’ breached express and implied contracts with the players that required the NCAA to protect student athletes by warning and educating them about the dangers of concussions while playing the sport. Additionally, since NCAA conferences require that student athletes follow NCAA rules and regulations, these conferences are also named as defendants.”
NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy is probably feeling a sense of déjà vu, and said as much in a statement to the Indianapolis Star: “This complaint against the NCAA presents nothing new or unique to the many cases consolidated to federal court in Illinois. The theories in this case, like the others, simply are not supported by the law.”
The law firm has far grander ambitions when it comes to the lawsuit against Riddell. Hoping to represent former high school AND college football players, it charges that Riddell misrepresented the safety of its helmets in marketing materials. Specifically, it alleges that Riddell “claimed a scientific study showed its helmets significantly reduced the risk of concussions compared to other manufacturers’ helmets. The scientific study was actually funded by Riddell itself, and the company has been the focus of ongoing litigation as a result of its deceptive claims.”
The firm went on to suggest that all plaintiffs “suffer from some degree of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) from multiple concussions or sub-concussive hits.” Of course, just one of the many challenges with this is causation, i.e. proving that it was the sub-concussive hits that occurred while wearing a Riddell helmet on the football field that caused the TBIs, and not the sub-concussive hits that occurred in some other sport or activity at a younger age.
The firm sought to contrast the NCAA and NFL in its press release:
“In 2016, the NCAA reached a $75 million medical monitoring settlement in federal court. Because the settlement will not cover medical expenses, players can pursue separate personal injury cases against the organization. The National Football League (NFL) arrived at a settlement with former players that will cover medical costs and provide monetary awards to those with different levels of brain injuries. Unlike NFL players, former NCAA athletes have no collective bargaining power or players’ association to represent them in legal matters.”
Circelli, Walter & Young went on to note in the press release that it “is accepting clients who played high school or college football between 1994-2014 and who exhibit signs and symptoms of brain injuries related to concussions while playing the sport. These symptoms may include: memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, anger control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or actions, Parkinsonism, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Former players or their loved ones should visit (the firm’s dedicated website) and complete a short survey to be contacted by a lawyer to discuss a possible case.”