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Appeals court reinstates NFL players’ opioids lawsuit

Posted On: Sep. 7, 2018 2:18 PM CST

Appeals court reinstates NFL players’ opioids lawsuit

A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court ruling and reinstated a putative class action lawsuit filed by former football players who charge the National Football League freely distributed without prescriptions opioids and other drugs that left them with permanent injuries and chronic medical conditions.

In 2014, Richard Dent and nine other retired players filed suit against the NFL in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, in which they alleged that since 1969, the NFL had distributed the drugs in violation of state and federal laws, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Richard Dent et al. v. National Football League et al.

The players charged that during their years in the NFL “they received copious amounts of opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and local anesthetics.”

They said the NFL “encouraged players to take these pain-masking medications to keep players on the field and revenues high, even as the football season got longer and the time between games got shorter, increasing their chances of injury.”

They said the players “rarely, if ever received written prescriptions…for the medications they were receiving,” and instead were handed pills “in small manila envelopes that often had no directions or labeling” and were told to take whatever was in the envelopes. 

They said also no one warned them about “potential side effects, long-term risks, interactions with other drugs or the likelihood of addiction.”

The U.S. District Court dismissed the case on the basis the players’ claims were pre-empted by the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, which concerns employer-union interactions. 

A unanimous three-judge appeals court disagreed. The players’ “right to receive medical care from the NFL that does not create an unreasonable risk of harm, does not arise from collective bargaining agreements,” the ruling said.

“Carelessness in the handling of dangerous substances is both illegal and morally blameworthy, given the risk of injury it entails. Imposing liability on those involved in improper prescription-drug distribution will prevent harm by encouraging responsible entities to ensure that drugs are administered safely,” said the ruling.

“And it will not represent an undue burden on such entities, which should already be complying with the laws governing prescription drugs and controlled substances.

“Thus, we conclude that to the extent the NFL is involved in the distribution of controlled substances, it has a duty to conduct such activities with reasonable care,” said the ruling, in reversing the lower court ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings.

In June, a state appeals court ruled a former Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle and California resident cannot file a cumulative-injury workers compensation claim in the state because there is no proof he signed his NFL contract while in California and he played only two games in the state during his six-year career.