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A Tough Pill to Swallow: Retired Players' Suit Raises Questions About NFL's Safety Record

By Alexandra Goldstein

Former National Football League (NFL) players filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday, May 20th, alleging that the NFL encouraged rampant painkiller use for players, at the expense of players' long-term health and well being. The suit, Dent et al v. National Football League (Case Number 4:14-cv-02324), comes on the heels of a class action concussion suit from retirees that similarly took aim at the NFL's safety record. Dent names eight plaintiffs and notes that more than 500 additional retirees have signed retention agreements to join the suit against the NFL.

The complaint points to a series of increasing demands on players, including a shorter off-season, the emergence of Thursday night games, and a longer season, all of which they claim have resulted in greater strain on players' bodies and less recovery time. In 1966, each of the NFL's 15 teams and the AFL's nine teams played a 14 game schedule, preceded by four pre-season games; only six teams advanced to the playoffs, making the post-season relatively short by today's standards. The suit contrasts the modest 1966 schedule with the NFL's current scheme, noting that the NFL has "expanded to 32 teams, each of which played a four game pre-season, 16 regular season games . . . and could face up to four post-season games if they played in the Wildcard game before advancing to the Super Bowl." The complaint alleges that the increased scheduling demands have given rise to a surge in injuries, leaving the NFL with the choice of benching players or leveraging their on-field time with the aid of prescription medications.

The players further assert that they were given little to no choice in the administration of various painkillers, and even less information about what they were ingesting. They point to the NFL's bottom line as a motivating factor: "[T]he NFL has illegally and unethically substituted pain medications for proper health care to keep the NFL's tsunami of dollars flowing." Former NFL defensive end and named plaintiff, Richard Dent, reveals a startling pattern of injury and medication throughout his 14-year career. He divulges that he "received hundreds, if not thousands, of injections from doctors and pills from trainers" and that "[n]o one from the NFL ever talked to him about the side effects of the medications he was being given." After breaking a bone in his foot during the 1990 season, team doctors advocated that he forego surgery, opting instead to increase his supply of painkillers, in order to keep him on the field. The complaint alleges that he now suffers from permanent nerve damage in the injured foot.

Former San Francisco 49er Jeremy Newberry, also a named plaintiff of the suit, alleges that the NFL administered a similar cocktail of prescription medication to keep him on the field; as a result, Newberry "has Stage 3 renal failure and suffers from high blood pressure and violent headaches for which he cannot take any medication that might further deteriorate his already-weakened kidneys." The complaint proceeds in detailing the starkly similar circumstances of the six additional named plaintiffs. While their individual claims arise from different time periods over the last 50 years, they allegedly "involve common questions of law and fact that predominate over individual issues."

The suit wades through a list of medications administered to players; while the plaintiffs acknowledge that "the specific medications have changed", the NFL has consistently administered opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), and local anesthetics, namely Lidocaine. The alleged flagrant uses were done without prescriptions or consideration for any of the players' medical histories, in direct violation of the (1) Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, codified as 21 U.S.C ยง801 et seq., (2) Foods, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which gave rise to prescription-based medications, and (3) ethical obligations governing doctors.

To that end, the nine-count complaint includes counts of fraud, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, negligence per se, loss of consortium, and negligent retention. The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a court-supervised and "NFL-funded testing and medical monitoring program to help prevent the occurrence of [m]edication-caused addictions and other injuries."

To overcome the applicable statute of limitations, the plaintiffs point to the NFL's "intentional, reckless and negligent omissions" that concealed the underlying foundation for the suit. As a result, they assert that the statute is tolled.

The case has been assigned to Magistrate Judge, Kandis A. Westmore. The parties are due in court later this summer for a case management conference, scheduled for August 19, 2014 at 1:30PM PDT.

The complaint is available at: http://cbssanfran.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2014-05-20-nfl-complaint.pdf

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 23, 2014 9:28 AM.

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