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A federal judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit from a group of high-profile former National Football League players who say the league negligently provided them with potentially addictive painkillers during their careers despite long-term health risks.
Judge William Alsup said “player injuries loom as a serious and inevitable evil” in the NFL, but that player injuries and health concerns are handled by individual NFL teams and under the league's collective bargaining agreements, according to an order filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
“Where health and safety are concerned, the (collective bargaining agreements) have allocated specific responsibilities to the (teams) — but not to the league,” the order reads. “By implication, this is tantamount to an agreement that the league has no oversight responsibility on these subjects. It would be reasonable to place all responsibility at the (team) level, for that level is where the play-or-not-play decisions are made, where the medical records are kept, and where players have daily contact with doctors.”
The lawsuit, filed May 20, includes eight named plaintiffs, including Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent and his former teammate, quarterback Jim McMahon, and 500 unidentified plaintiffs, according to court filings.
Plaintiffs who played in the NFL between 1969 and 2008 say they were routinely provided with opioids such as Vicodin, sleep aids such as Ambien, and injections of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug Toradol. In turn, they allege “cocktailing” such medications for a long period of time left them with long-term health problems such as kidney failure and drug addiction.
Judge Alsup said last week that the NFL should “at least be given credit” for steps that it has taken under collective bargaining agreements to protect the health and safety of players. That includes an NFL rule that requires physicians for all 32 NFL teams to comply with federal, state and local laws, as well as a rule that requires teams to advise players in writing if a health condition could be aggravated by returning to the field.
“The main point of this order is that the league has addressed these serious concerns in a serious way — by imposing duties on the (teams) via collective bargaining and placing a long line of health-and-safety duties on the team owners themselves,” the order reads. “These benefits may not have been perfect, but they have been uniform across all clubs and not left to the vagaries of state common law. They are backed up by the enforcement power of the union itself and the players' right to enforce these benefits.”
Plaintiffs in the case have until Dec. 30 to file a motion to amend their complaints, according to Wednesday's order.
Travelers Cos. Inc. is suing the National Football League and more than two dozen other insurers in New York state court, saying it has no obligation to defend the NFL in a prescription drug-related lawsuit filed by more than 500 former players.