Colorado plaintiff's $3.1 million verdict against Riddell raises questions about NFL case in Philly

By Jon Campisi | Apr 16, 2013

A Colorado jury recently determined that helmet manufacturer Riddell failed to

adequately warn a former football player about the dangers of concussions, with the verdict coming mere days after company lawyers sought to have Riddell severed from a nationwide class action suit against the NFL playing out in Philadelphia.

The New York Times this week reported that the Colorado jury returned a hefty verdict against Riddell Helmets, with the country’s largest helmet manufacturer ordered to pay $3.1 million in damages to Rhett Ridolfi, a 22-year-old man who sustained a head injury back in 2008 while conducting a drill with his high school football team.

It is not yet clear what type of effect the Colorado case, which occurred in Las Animas County District Court in Trinidad, Colo., would have on the federal class action injury case against the National Football League, but some legal observers view this as important.

“Although this verdict appears to be an anomaly, it could indicate that juries are placing more responsibility on manufacturers to explicitly warn about the limitations of helmets,” Missouri-based attorney Paul Anderson wrote on his website, “In addition, judges may be more willing to allow a jury to decide whether a warning would be heeded, as opposed to deciding the case summarily on the papers.”

Just last week, both sides in the NFL case met in court for the first time during oral arguments over the league’s motion to dismiss the litigation, which is being initiated by a large number of former players who argue the league fraudulently concealed the long-term health risks related to on-the-field head injuries.

The players’ injury case is being handled as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, docket being overseen by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

There are currently more than 4,000 plaintiffs in 200-plus individual lawsuits that have been consolidated into the MDL in Philadelphia.

In addition to hearing arguments over the NFL’s motion to dismiss, Brody last week also listened to attorneys representing Riddell who argued that the case brought against their clients should be heard separately from the case against the NFL.

One Riddell attorney said in court that not one plaintiff in the NFL case identified a particular helmet with a specific defect.

The judge said that argument goes to a motion to dismiss, not a motion to sever, although the lawyer still maintained that the Riddell claims shouldn’t be lumped in with the NFL’s case brought by the former players.

California attorney Martin Buchanan, however, said during the proceeding that joinder in a case like this is appropriate.
“Here we have a common thread that’s running through all of these cases and that is the NFL,” he told Brody. “The duty to warn is really the verifying theme here.”

It was not yet clear when Brody would rule on the NFL’s motion to dismiss and Riddell’s motion to sever.

Meanwhile, in the Colorado case, a Riddell spokesman was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the company is “confident that the jury would have reached a different conclusion had the Court not erroneously excluded the testimony of our warnings expert.”

“We intend to appeal this verdict, and we remain steadfast in our belief that Riddell designs and manufactures the most protective football headgear for the athlete,” the spokesman said, according to the Times.

The jury in Colorado determined that Riddell’s negligence was to blame for Ridolfi’s head injuries, which led to paralysis on the left side of his body following the football drill five years ago.

But while the jury concluded that Riddell failed to warn the plaintiff of the dangers of concussions, if also rejected claims that there were design defects in the defendant’s product.

Riddell’s statement following the verdict said that the company was pleased that the jury found the helmet itself was not defective in any way.

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