Time’s Up: Court Rules that Former NFL Players’ Suit Against Riddell is Time-Barred

In 2016, more than 50 ex-NFL players, all of whom had sustained numerous concussions and were suffering attendant neurological impairments, filed a lawsuit against Riddell, Inc., the sports equipment manufacturer that made the helmets they wore while playing.

In their complaint, the former NFL players claimed that while the sports equipment manufacturer “promoted [their] helmets as safe,” Riddell “failed to warn” that their “plastic helmets could not protect” the players against concussions or long-term neurodegenerative diseases. The complaint further alleged that the manufacturers “conspired with the NFL to misinform players about the risks of long-term brain damage that could result from playing football.”

The NFL already settled similar lawsuits with the claimant-players and others for claims that the NFL failed to inform and protect them from the risks of concussions. The players could have filed suit against Riddell at the same time as the NFL concussion litigation, but they did not. With this in mind, Riddell made a motion to dismiss the case on statute of limitations grounds.

Ultimately, Riddell’s request to throw out the case was granted by the trial court. The case was deemed time-barred by the “two-year statute of limitations governing personal injury actions in Illinois.”

On appeal, the players maintained that they filed suit against Riddell within two years of “learning about the injuries for which they [sought] redress.” They also argued that “the statute of limitations for the specific neurodegenerative disorder they now face could not have accrued until [they were] diagnosed with the disorder.”

The court didn’t buy these arguments, and on October 21, 2019, a state appellate panel in Illinois affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the claim was time-barred. The appellate court also upheld the trial court’s denial of the players’ request for leave to amend (Butler v. BRG Sports, LLC, October 21, 2019, Griffin, J.).

The court explained that the players “had sufficient knowledge to assert claims against the NFL, so they had sufficient knowledge to assert them against Riddell.” The court was persuaded that the players “chose to enforce their claims against the NFL only and, despite being presented with the opportunity, made a conscious decision to not pursue any claims against Riddell.” The appellate court also noted that one who knows he is injured need “not know the exact nature or extent of his injuries for the statute of limitations to begin running.”

Had the players filed suit during the course of the NFL concussion litigation, then it would been well within the bounds of the two-year statute of limitations. Because they failed to take action during Riddell during their suit against the NFL, the court ruled that the players are out of luck.

Robert L. Wise, one of Riddell’s attorneys, said the court’s decision “confirms and reinforces the company’s commitment to defending itself against baseless actions such as these.”

Bill Gibbs, who represents the players, told Law360 that while they respect the court’s opinion, they will “continue the good fight on behalf of those cases that are still viable and still are proceeding through the system.”

Image credit: Sports Law Insider

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