Latest Concussion Lawsuit Targets Teams
Until now, none of the 93 concussion-related lawsuits named a Club as a defendant. A lawsuit filed yesterday in Hillsborough County, Florida, is the first to specifically target several Clubs.
The lawsuit includes four former players; the most notable player is four-time Pro Bowler, Jimmie Giles. The other three players – Donald Smith, Calvin Woods and Arron Sears – each played less than three years. Sears has been arrested several times since being released by the Buccaneers. Sears’ lawyer will probably argue that his mental-health issues were caused by football-related injuries.
In addition to naming the NFL, NLF Properties, and Riddell Helmets, the plaintiffs name the Buccaneers, Lions, Bills, Dolphins, Eagles and Titans as defendants — all of whom were the plaintiffs former employer.
The plaintiffs are represented by former-player-turned-lawyer, Charles E. Emanuel. Emanuel was a defensive back in the NFL for one year and then went on to law school, earning his J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law.
Prior to this suit, the plaintiffs’ lawyers purposefully refrained from naming the Clubs as a defendant. Primarily because it gives rise to a strong argument that the lawsuit is barred by workers’ compensation.
NFL players are employees of the team in which they play for; as part of this employer-employee relationship, workers’ compensation is generally the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries. In other words, employees give up the right to sue in exchange for workers’ compensation benefits (i.e. if you are injured on the job, you are entitled to benefits regardless of fault.)
However, there is an exception to the exclusive-remedy rule, which may allow an employee to sue his employer if the injury was intentional (i.e. fraud, battery, etc.). Here, the players are arguing that the Clubs purposefully misled the players about the long-term risks about concussions. Of course, this will be very difficult to prove unless the proverbial “smoking gun” memo is found during the discovery process.
The NFL may also use the exclusive-remedy argument later down the road, but the NFL’s argument isn’t as strong because it is not the employer of the players.
This lawsuit will eventually be consolidated with the multidistrict litigation in Philadelphia, but it will be interesting to see if any other lawyers decide to follow suit and name a Club as a defendant.
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