A brain-damaged Colorado high schooler has won a $3.1 million judgment against helmet-maker Riddell, claiming the company failed to adequately warn users of the dangers of concussions. This could very much matter to the NFL: lawsuits from more than 4,000 former players that name Riddell and the league as co-defendants are working their ways through the system.
The Colorado case concerned Rhett Ridolfi, who received a concussion during football drills in 2008. He wasn't immediately taken to the hospital, and ended up suffering brain damage and paralysis on his left side. Ridolfi's family sued his coaches as well as Riddell, and on Saturday a jury awarded him an $11.5 million verdict—with 27 percent of the money, and therefore of the blame, falling on Riddell.
The jury rejected claims that the helmet contained design defects. Ridolfi's attorney, Frank Azar, said the issue wasn't the construction of the helmet, but the claims that it can protect against head trauma:
"Riddell set this phony-baloney standard about concussion risk," he said. "If they had told the truth, and said, 'You have a 50 percent change of getting a concussion with this helmet,' what mother or father would let their kid play football in a Riddell helmet? And you can still buy this helmet today."
In a statement, Riddell expressed disappointment that the judge had excluded testimony from its expert, and indicated its intent to appeal.
Riddell, the official helmet-maker of the NFL, finds itself in court an awful lot these days. The company was cleared in October in the case of a Mississippi high schooler who suffered a stroke (that news is trumpeted on Riddell's website), and a similar case will begin in Los Angeles within the next few weeks.
A consolidated complaint, from thousands of retired NFL players, is still in the early stages—a U.S. District Court judge heard the league's argument to dismiss last week. Those suits claim Riddell's helmets were long inadequate, and the safety benefits of recent models have been exaggerated. A report from Bloomberg last month also contained claims that competing helmets purporting to be safer were rejected by the NFL's concussion panel, partly on the advice of an outside consultant who has previously worked for Riddell. The judge is expected to rule this summer whether the suits can proceed.