I’ve previously blogged about the prospect of football helmet manufacturers facing product liability lawsuits for design defects in their helmets and the resulting brain injuries that occur.
This week came news that former NFL lineman Ralph Wenzel has filed a Worker’s Compensation claim that says head injuries he sustained in the course of his NFL career are responsible for his present-day dementia.
Of course, a Worker’s Compensation claim for football head injuries is recourse that is only available to former professional football players, not to college or high school players who sustained brain injuries while playing for fun, rather than as part of their “job” or “work.” But even though these Worker’s Compensation claims are available only to the tiny fraction of football players who played professionally, the consequences could be enormous. The potential liability faced by the NFL in Worker’s Compensation claims relating to head injuries could be $100 million or more. Liability of that scale is big enough to force even a multi-billion dollar empire like the NFL to consider its rules and regulations regarding concussions and other head injuries. Football fans might even see the three point stance abolished as a result!
Worker’s Compensation pre-emption means that former pro football players cannot sue their former teams directly for brain injuries they sustained from their playing (they can however maintain product liability actions against the helmet manufacturers). High schools and colleges need to be alert to the prospect of this kind of litigation because their players are “students,” not “workers,” and Worker’s Compensation laws do not prove a bar to suing them directly. High school and college programs could therefore face even greater liability than the NFL.
It is a startling realization, but legal liability for brain injuries might fundamentally alter the rules of football and transform it place in our culture.
My guess, however, is that the NFL lobbies the California legislature to change the law with regards to football players.
If you know someone who has suffered a head or brain injury as a result of a defective product, such as a football helmet, and who requires the services of a Boston personal injury attorney, call The Law Office of Alan H. Crede to arrange a free in-person consultation.