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Riddell Beats Class Claims Tying Brain Injuries to Helmets

Aug. 2, 2019, 12:36 AM

A group of former high school and college football players can’t continue with class claims alleging poorly designed Riddell helmets caused them to suffer brain injuries, the Northern District of Illinois said Aug. 1.

The lawsuit presents questions that are too individualized to support a class action against the BRG Sports Inc. brand, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said.

The 16 named plaintiffs all say they sustained cognitive impairments including dizziness, memory loss, and emotional instability because of the negligent and defective design of their Riddell helmets. They say they would have “played differently, used a different brand of helmet, and/or avoided playing football altogether” if they had known of the helmets’ alleged design flaws.

Riddell moved to strike the class claims, and the court agreed the claims are unsustainable. They are “brimming with individualized questions of causation and damages,” the court said.

Each claim depends on individualized questions about the exact helmet, injury, and plaintiff involved, among other things.

“For instance, on the negligence claims, each individual plaintiff will need to demonstrate that he or she was injured and his or her injury was caused by Riddell’s conduct,” the court said.

“But each plaintiff used different Riddell products for different lengths of time, at various levels of play and in different positions on the field, sustaining different numbers of concussions and other injuries, and receiving varying medical care,” it said.

“If that were not enough, there are seemingly limitless confounding causal mechanisms and possible extenuating circumstances” including “family and medical history, age, diet, and lifestyle” that may affect each plaintiff’s “response to head-related injuries,” the court said.

The court also noted “truly significant” variations in the personal injury laws of the 18 states that the plaintiffs wanted the class action to cover.

The plaintiffs’ request to divide the action into “issue-specific classes” also failed, because doing so wouldn’t “resolve the enormous manageability problems presented” by the action, the court said.

Judge Matthew F. Kennelly wrote the opinion.

Edelson PC represented the plaintiffs. Bowman & Brooke LLP represented BRG Sports.

The case is Jones v. BRG Sports, Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 1:18-cv-07250, 8/1/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com