As per the New York Times, football helmet maker Riddell was whacked with a $3.1M verdict for failing to warn players of the dangers of concussions. This represents 27 percent of $11.5 million in damages that were awarded to Rhett Ridolfi, who sustained a head injury and was paralyzed on the left side of his body during a football drill in 2008.
In doing so, the jury also rejected claims related to design defects in Riddell’s helmet.
Since it isn’t my favorite thing to simply re-hash news stories — you are more than capable of hitting that link and reading about the case — let me jump to the future, and that deals with the design defect that was not found.
The modern football helmet is part of the Law of Unintended Circumstances. Created to protect the head, it gave players so much confidence that they started using the head to attack with, instead of to think with.
There are thousands of other lawsuits out there from former players who have suffered brain injuries from repeatedly smashing heads with the opposition. There are plenty of parents out there watching and, I believe, pushing their athletically minded kids to other sports where brain damage isn’t as likely.
Whether these lawsuits survive or not will likely go to the issue of what was known about the dangers, when was it known, and when was the information was shared. One can only assume the risk of an activity, after all, if it is a commonly appreciated risk which is inherent in and arising out of the nature of the sport and generally and flows from such participation.
But regardless of how those suits fare, playing out concepts of a failure to warn by manufacturers and assumption of risk by players, I think the writing is on the wall for the next generation of athletes.
I think we’ll see a return to helmets with a soft exterior, to help blunt the impact of smashing heads. If the helmet loses its effectiveness as a weapon, then it won’t be used that way. The TV folks probably won’t be keen on that, since the smash of helmets is part of the audio opera of the physical contest. But the times, I think, will be a changin’, as the cost of being a gridiron warrior is simply too high.