Yesterday, John Carlson of the Seattle Seahawks was carted off of the field of play in his team’s NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Chicago Bears. Carlson suffered an injury after he landed on his head near the sideline. As discussed last month, there are enormous dangers and damaging health effects of from head injuries. The NFL may have set itself up for a fall in a future lawsuit concerning its failure to warn its athletes about the ramifications of concussions. Might football players also have a cause of action against the helmet providers?
Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, is currently looking into “marketing claims that some football helmets can help reduce concussions, responding to a senator who wants the FTC to investigate what he called ‘misleading safety claims and deceptive practices’ in the sale of new helmets and reconditioning of used ones.” While the NFL may be accused of a failure to warn, helmet companies not only should fear FTC action, but also by private entities. The claims could be more than just misrepresentation based on an express warranty.
If it can be proven that helmets have been defectively manufactured, designed, or had inadequate warnings, the manufacturers could be held strictly liable. Any defects would be viewed as making the product unreasonably dangerous, as head injuries can lead to a shortened and/or diminished life. It is very unlikely that a court finds that the helmet could not have been made safe without serious impact on its price or utility.
Negligence is another concern. A fact or promise concerning goods becomes the basis of the bargain, breach, actual and proximate cause, and damages. This makes the FTC’s future finding all the more important. Helmet companies also provide an implied warranty of merchantability with the products they manufacture. The helmets must be of quality and made fit for the ordinary purpose for which they are used (on the football field, to prevent head injuries). The helmet manufacturers fully understand the particular purpose for their creation, and football players put full reliance on the manufacturers’ skill and judgment to create their products to the highest standard possible.
Lives are at risk every time players place helmets on their heads to play in NFL match-ups. Helmet manufacturers, along with the NFL, must be held accountability for what occurs on the field of play. Riddell is the official helmet company of the NFL.