A group of former NFL players have filed a class action lawsuit against the league alleging negligence with respect to the way the league handled concussion-related injuries. The plaintiffs claim that the league did not do enough to protect them after suffering head injuries and worse, the former players have accused league officials of concealing medical research on traumatic brain injuries that could have prevented further damage during their playing days.
But what exactly is the league's legal responsibility regarding injuries in the past? Should the league even be responsible for injuries that occur in such a violent sport? And if the league withheld valuable information on the links between concussions and lifelong symptoms, how stiff should the penalties be?
Before we make presumptions, I think it's important to break down the burden of proof that rests with the players here in a negligence claim. In order for the players to prove their case, they must prove the following: (1) the NFL had a duty to protect them; (2) the NFL breached that duty; (3) there is a direct, "causational" link between the league's breach and the harm done to the players; and (4) damages.
In looking at the elements, the players will have no problem proving damages and will probably succeed in showing that the NFL had a duty to protect them. Where the case gets dicey is whether the league breached that duty and also whether there is a "causational" link between the players' injuries and the league's breach of it's duty to protect them. To keep this as simple as possible, the case will fall on whether the league withheld, or misrepresented, key information that may have prevented further damage to these players.
But what's not being addressed here is the potential ripple effect this case could have on future lawsuits. Over the last few years, concussions have grappled the public's curiosity and have tested athletes at all levels. For some, careers have ended due to multiple concussions and in some situations, the result has been fatal. The bottom line is, concussions are now taken very seriously. The players suing the league are now asking, why were concussions not addressed more aggressively in the past? And did the league withhold information that may have saved them from further damage?
All of these questions are issues of fact and therefore, I firmly believe this case needs to go to a jury trial. The NFL should not be absolved from liability on the basis of "assumption of risk," which they'll likely assert in claiming that the players should have known they faced serious head injuries since the game is inherently violent. If they withheld information, or misrepresented medical research, that directly led to further injuries and lifelong symptoms, I believe these players should be compensated.
It is a litigious society we currently live in, but we cannot rush to judgment here. These players may have a legitimate claim for damages and should they succeed, more lawsuits are sure to follow.