Cook County Record

Monday, November 18, 2019

Appeals court: 54 ex-NFL players' concussion suits vs Riddell doomed by failure to sue helmet maker at same time as NFL

Federal Court

By Dan Churney | Oct 29, 2019

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Paul Cutler from Chaska, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

CHICAGO -- An Illinois appeals panel has ruled a group of more than 50 NFL players waited too long to sue the maker of the helmets they wore in their playing days, as the players neglected to sue helmet manufacturer Riddell when they first sued the National Football League, alone. However, one former player did sue in time, the appeals court ruled.

On Oct. 21, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court ruled on groupings of 55 lawsuits that alleged Des Plaines-based Riddell Sports Group did not warn NFL players of the danger of head injuries. The justices found 54 former players filed suit more than two years after they were diagnosed with impairments, violating the statute of limitations. 

The decisions were written by First District Appellate Justice John Griffin. Justices Daniel Pierce and Carl Walker concurred in both rulings. 

A set of 54 suits was brought in Cook County Circuit Court by former NFL players, who alleged they suffered concussions while wearing Riddell’s headgear. They alleged Riddell knew of the concussion danger but never alerted players and, instead, promoted its helmets as protecting against concussions. 

Riddell fought the suits, filed on different dates in 2016 and bundled together on appeal that were lodged after the two-year statute of limitations expired. The players acknowledged the injuries occurred more than two years before, but contend the clock did not begin ticking until their neurological impairments became manifest within those two years.

Riddell maintained players knew of their impairments at least as early as when they took part in a class action against the NFL that began in 2012. In light of the NFL action, Cook County Circuit Judge John Ehrlich dismissed the suits.

On appeal, Griffin agreed the players could have launched their suits against Riddell at the time of the NFL action.

“The plaintiffs chose to enforce their claims against the NFL only and, despite being presented with the opportunity, made a conscious decision to not pursue any claims against Riddell,” Griffin ruled. “Plaintiffs had sufficient knowledge to assert claims against the NFL, so they had sufficient knowledge to assert them against Riddell. 

"There is no newly discovered information that would make the discovery of a claim against Riddell any different than the discovery of a claim against the NFL. [The] plaintiffs offer no explanation for why we should treat the NFL and Riddell any differently as defendants where all of the harm is alleged to have occurred at the same time for both defendants.”

Griffin added the players want to press the case “piecemeal fashion,” which would fly in the face of the idea behind statutes of limitations —  to “have some certainty and to eliminate open-ended liability.”

The former players are represented by Corboy & Demetrio, of Chicago.

The other appellate ruling involved a suit by Haruki Nakamura, who played six seasons in the NFL before a 2013 concussion ended his career. Nakamura did not participate in the NFL class action.

Riddell also argued Nakamura's suit was filed too late, because he was injured in 2013, but did not sue until October 2017. Ehrlich agreed, tossing out the case. However, Griffin took Nakamura's side, finding the statute of limitations began when Nakamura was diagnosed in October 2015 with chronic post-concussion syndrome.

"As opposed to a sudden traumatic event which causes the statutory limitations period to begin running immediately, when a plaintiff’s injury does not manifest itself until sometime after the defendant’s wrongful act occurred, the plaintiff’s cause of action is said to accrue when the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know that he has been injured by the wrongful conduct of another," Griffin argued. "The knowledge of having suffered one severe concussion does not mean that the person has knowledge of all brain-related injuries." .

In giving Nakamura's suit new life, Griffin nonetheless cautioned that he has questions about the suit's viability. Griffin pointed out Nakamura acknowledged he has not yet been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder, but argues that he qualifies for damages because of his increased risk of such a diagnosis.

"By plaintiff’s own arguments, he makes the case against himself, exhibiting that his claims are not even ripe, are not judiciable," Griffin noted.

Nakamura is also represented by Corboy & Demetrio.

Riddell is defended in all the lawsuits by the firm of Donahue, Brown, Mathewson & Smyth, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Corboy & DemetrioIllinois First District Appellate CourtRiddell Inc.Circuit Court of Cook CountyDonohue Brown Matthewson & Smyth/atNational Football League

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