The number of lawsuits filed by ex-NFL players is growing. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, made up of several federal judges, has decided that the brain injury claims of these former employees should be consolidated into one, larger matter. The lawsuits all concern the lingering effects of repeated concussions suffered during their professional football careers. The players are suing both the NFL and the official NFL helmet company, Riddell. All told, there are more than 600 former players who have pursued legal action against the NFL for exposing them to significant risk of head injury.
The NFL believes that concussions are a player-safety issue and that they are governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement under which the players performed. As such, they believe that arbitration is the appropriate forum for handling disputes regarding player brain injuries. Many of the players who suffer from migraines, depression, memory loss and other symptoms of brain injury believe the court system is the only avenue to obtain the compensation they deserve.
The players believe that their employer was well aware of the risk of concussion and head trauma and did not take proper steps to protect their safety. While the NFL case will certainly draw bigger headlines, it shares much in common with other situations in which workers are put in danger by negligent employers. While some professions come with an inherent risk of injury, it is still up to the employer to ensure that workers are not exposed to harm unnecessarily.
Large, highly-publicized cases like this one have the potential to affect the rights of others. Safety advocates, organized labor groups and employees everywhere should be on the lookout for decisions that could make it harder to protect working people. Whether the victim of a brain injury is a famous former wide-receiver or a local construction worker, the right to be safe from harm is the same.