By Wendy Biddle, J.D.
Maker of Riddell® football helmets wins motion to strike class allegations of injuries related to helmet safety.
BRG Sports Inc., maker of Riddell® football helmets, will not have to litigate classes of former football players in 18 states, the federal district court in Chicago held, finding that the details of the individual plaintiffs, who had a wide variety of symptoms and playing times and who wore different styles of Riddell helmets, were too varied for a class action to be suitable (Jones v. BRG Sports, Inc., August 1, 2019, Kennelly, M.).
The proposed class, which included high school and college football players who used Riddell helmets from 1975 to today, argued that BRG, the largest football helmet manufacturer in the world, cut corners in its designs. Although BRG could have changed the material, configuration, and dimensions of the Riddell helmets that would have made helmets both cost-effective and safer, the manufacturer failed to make those changes, even after competitors implemented them. The players alleged that because of its failure to make those safety changes, BRG (Riddell) is liable under both negligence and design defect tort theories.
Motion to strike. BRG moved to prevent the suit from going forward as a class action, arguing that the specific injuries that the players alleged, the specific helmets that the players had used, where the players had played, and the possible mitigating factors were too different to remedy in a class action. They additionally argued that the players’ individualized experiences and the applicable laws differed so widely that a class action was inappropriate.
The court found that the individual details for all of the plaintiffs made a class action unsuitable because they would not be able to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3). Too many individualized questions were present, including which Riddell product had been used by a given player, what was the player’s level of play, what had been the player’s position, and what were the player’s injuries. The court noted that individualized issues were pervasive in the players’ negligence and products liability claims with each player being required to prove causation—with seemingly limitless causal mechanisms and circumstances—and injury.
The court also found that even though the class is divided into 18 separate parts, the legal variations of those parts and applicable law are significant. The complexity of the individualized facts of the players "bears a synergistic relationship" with the various state legal schemes which fails both the predominance and superiority requirements of 23(b)(3). The court held that no amount of discovery or narrowing of the class definitions would be able to overcome this issue. The court, therefore, granted BRG’s motion to strike the class allegations.
Parallel litigation. The court briefly discussed whether other individual suits filed by class members making similar claims undermined or supported the class allegations. The players argued that the discovery involved will largely overlap, making a class action superior, while the helmet maker argued that the other suits made individual litigation a viable alternative. The court concluded that both parties made viable arguments, but the issue nevertheless was moot because the number of individual questions made class action inappropriate.
The case is No. 1:18-cv-07250.
Attorneys: Daniel J. Schneider (Edelson PC) for Jeffrey Jones. Paul G. Cereghini (Bowman and Brooke LLP) for BRG Sports, Inc.
Companies: BRG Sports, Inc.
MainStory: TopStory ClassActLitigationNews SportsandRecEquipmentNews IllinoisNews
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