Former Collegiate Players File Class Claims Against Helmet Maker

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

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On January 30, 2017, a group of former college football players filed a punitive class action against football helmet maker, Riddell Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The players in the suit claim that the company lied about the level of protection from head injuries the helmets provided. The members of the class, which is currently made up of 35 former collegiate players, claim that beginning in 2002 Riddell promoted its Revolution brand helmets as providing players with 31% more protection from concussions than other leading helmets on the market. At the time of the helmets’ debut on the market, Riddell was basing its false safety claims on what Plaintiffs now describe as a “shaky study” published by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The study in question was eventually deleted from all major Riddell advertising materials in 2011 after the Federal Trade Commission began an investigation into the veracity of the results and also into the possibility of a conflict of interest on the part of the study’s authors.

Riddell’s Revolution helmets are padded with urethane foam, which the company promoted as the safest means of protection; however, Plaintiffs argue that as far back as 1999, consultants hired by the company concluded that front pads made from vinyl nitrate would provide greater protection to players for similar manufacturing costs of urethane foam. Plaintiffs further allege that the defendant company was presented with additional information about opportunities to improve the product’s safety in 2003; it was found that thermoplastic polyurethane in the rear and side pads would offer players a higher level of protection against concussions than the current designs. However, rather than improving upon existing product designs, Plaintiffs accuse the company of putting profits above player safety. The complaint alleges that Riddell failed to adequately warn players of the risks associated with wearing the helmet, especially the risk of concussion.

In addition to the case at bar, Riddell also faces a multitude of other pending litigations including false advertising claims in New Jersey and West Virginia and a wrongful death suit in Pennsylvania filed by the widow of a former NFL player who died of a brain aneurysm in 2009. The widow accuses the company of providing NFL players with defectively-designed helmets that do not protect against severe head injuries.

The Case Is: Mark Adams et al. v. BRG Sports et al., case number 3:17-cv-00457, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

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