Over the past several months, a rash of lawsuits has been filed against the NFL regarding the impact of concussions and the alleged failure of the NFL to properly warn players of the risks and/or to protect players from repeated blows to the head.
Moving forward, those cases likely will be combined into one.
A ruling in that regard is expected today, according to Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald. The NFL has asked the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate all cases and refer the combined lawsuit to Philadelphia for pre-trial proceedings. The lawyer representing many of the plaintiffs in the cases expects the league’s wish to be granted.
The league continues to deny any and all potential liability. “The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so,” league spokesman Greg Aiello told the Herald. “Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”
That’s fine, but here’s the reality. The litigation process could reveal evidence on which a reasonable jury could conclude that, for some period of time, the NFL knew things about the risks of concussions and failed to disclose them to the players or their union. Likewise, there could evidence to indicate that, for a period of time after the risks were disclosed to players, the NFL failed to do enough to properly protect its players.
Working against the players will be the commonsensical reaction from many potential jurors that: (1) anyone with a brain knows or should have known that repeated blows to the brain aren’t a good thing; (2) the players were compensated for assuming that and other risks; and (3) even if they knew the risks, they still would have played football.
In the end, the rights and responsibilities will be determined not by reality or common sense but by the evidence submitted by the parties and the arguments made by the lawyers. Sympathy could drive the ultimate decision, as could cynicism.
It will be months if not years until this one is resolved, and most football fans won’t care. However, as more changes to the game are made in order to enhance player safety, rest assured that the league is trying hard to avoid similar lawsuits in the future.