Painkiller lawsuit dismissed

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When a group of former players sued the NFL for the improper distribution of painkillers by team doctors, the effort got a lot more traction in the media than the concussion lawsuits received in their early stages.  Viewed as the next wave of liability for a league plagued with safety concerns, it was presumed by many that the NFL was on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

While the concussion lawsuit ended up generating significant liability for the NFL, the painkiller lawsuit apparently will create none.

U.S. Judge William Alsup has dismissed the lawsuit, explaining that it is preempted by the Collective Bargaining Agreements governing the relationship between the NFL and its players.

“In ruling against the novel claims asserted herein, this order does not minimize the underlying societal issue,” Judge Alsup wrote in a 22-page order, a copy of which PFT has obtained. “In such a rough-and-tumble sport as professional football, player injuries loom as a serious and inevitable evil. Proper care of these injuries is likewise a paramount need. The main point of this order is that the league has addressed these serious concerns in a serious way — by imposing duties on the clubs via collective bargaining and placing a long line of health-and-safety duties on the team owners themselves. These benefits may not have been perfect but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law. They are backed up by the enforcement power of the union itself and the players’ right to enforce these benefits. Given the regime in place after decades of collective bargaining over the scope of these duties, it would be impossible to fashion and to apply new and supplemental state common law duties on the league without taking into accountvthe adequacy and scope of the CBA duties already set in place.”

In other words, if individual teams and/or individual team doctors have been prescribing medication improperly, the players should pursue claims directly against the teams, through the arbitration procedures available under the labor deal.

The ruling doesn’t account for the period when there was no CBA, following the 1987 strike and until 1993.  Still, even without the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems that it would have been difficult if not impossible for former players to prove that the NFL has responsibility for the actions of its teams.

“The essence of plaintiffs’ claim for relief is that the individual clubs mistreated their players and the league was negligent in failing to intervene and stop their alleged mistreatment,” Judge Alsup wrote.  “Plaintiffs anchor this claim for relief in supposed common law duties of each of the various states whose law would apply and vaguely suggest that all such states would impose the same uniform duty on the league to oversee the clubs.

“One problem is this: no decision in any state (including California) has ever held that a professional sports league owed such a duty to intervene and stop mistreatment by the league’s independent clubs.”

Judge Alsup gave the players until December 30 to file a motion for permission to amend the complaint that states a viable legal cause of action. The players also have appeal rights. So while the case isn’t over, it’s the players who are now on the ropes, from a legal perspective.

18 responses to “Painkiller lawsuit dismissed

  1. Morally I think it’s awful that NFL contracts are not guaranteed and that NFL players are constantly put in situations where they have to disregard their long term health so they can play. I think the culture in the league in regards to playing through serious injuries, especially head injuries, has improved drastically from 15-20 years ago but the league, and sport for that matter, still has a long way to go. When you consider the NFL’s revenue numbers it seems ridiculous that NFL players are expected to play through serious injuries, risk their long term health, and all with the looming threat out of being cut and losing out on non guaranteed money. Yet MLB players can go on the DL with minor injuries in a far less dangerous sport all with the protection of fully guaranteed contracts.

    Legally though I think this is the right decision.

  2. Morally I think what NBA and MLB players do to Franchises, Owners, Teams, and Fans by bleeding organizations for outrageous salaries on guaranteed contracts and immediately packing it in and leaving everybody high and dry is a travesty.

  3. Salaries should be guaranteed in the event of an injury. Players love to play the game. Owners realizing that are unable to enter into contracts thru the the CBA without any risk to their money.
    MLB and NBA guarantee contracts. The NFL should do likewise. They have no conscious.

  4. There’s no bigger money grab than the NFL. How those accuse former players of “money grabbing” and ignore the NFL’s constant money grabbing is very short sighted, IMO.

  5. It is still baffling to me how the NFL can say on one hand that it has no responsibility or control over what it’s teams do, yet the NFL suspends and fines players working for those clubs as well as coaches and owners when needed. If they had no control shouldn’t the teams individually assign punishment (I know CBA). It seems the NFL wants it both ways.

  6. skawh says:
    Dec 17, 2014 5:58 PM
    There’s no bigger money grab than the NFL. How those accuse former players of “money grabbing” and ignore the NFL’s constant money grabbing is very short sighted, IMO.

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    Well yeah, you know, because if a business is successful, then everyone should be able to just sue the business for anything they can come up with to get paid right?

    What the hell sense does that make? You have GOT to be a FortyWHINER fan.

  7. “They have no conscious”.
    __________________________
    Quite the Freudian slip. Take too many pills and one won’t be conscious. But I don’t think that’s what you meant. #commoncorestinks

  8. The NFL has no control over the actions of a doctor. That is the reason for malpractice insurance. If they have a legitimate claim, they can sue the individual doctor responsible. But the players don’t want to go that route since the burden of proof on an individual case is more difficult than a class action suit & the reward is capped by the liability insurance policy…as opposed to the perceived unlimitted value of the future NFL revenue.

  9. “It is still baffling to me how the NFL can say on one hand that it has no responsibility or control over what it’s teams do, yet the NFL suspends and fines players working for those clubs as well as coaches and owners when needed. If they had no control shouldn’t the teams individually assign punishment (I know CBA). It seems the NFL wants it both ways.”

    And the NFL gets it both ways. Why, I still don’t know.

  10. Great we now get to pick up another bill for the NFL. They jack these guys up and kick em to the curb without insurance.

    Guess who pays?

    For those concerned about players raising costs look at all you taxes that flow to the owners and the non-for-profit NFL.

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