Running back Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, while playing for the University of Notre Dame. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL – he won four championships with the Green Bay Packers, including the first Super Bowl, and led the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons.
He also endured an inordinate number of concussions. Now, at the age of 80, and suffering from dementia, he is suing the equipment manufacturer, Riddell Inc, that produced the helmets he wore while playing. The suit claims that the helmets failed to protect Hornung adequately, and that his dementia is linked with repeated head trauma. He is seeking unspecified damages.
Concussion lawsuits are common, but this one’s different
As reported by ESPN, concussion lawsuits brought by NFL players have become more common in recent years, as athletes have become better educated about the consequences of repeated blows to the head. And Riddell Inc is no stranger to these matters. Injured players in California, Florida, Mississippi, and Colorado have brought suits.
Many of the legal filings assert that Riddell Inc willfully ignored studies that demonstrated how they could make their helmets safer, thereby rendering the company liable when injuries occurred. The novelty of Hornung’s case, it seems, stems from allegations that the manufacturer has known of its products dangers for more than 50 years.
“Studies dating back to the 19th century linked head trauma to permanent brain damage,” Hornung’s lawyer said, “but Riddell failed to communicate the danger” in an appropriate manner.
Is the manufacturer doing enough to protect players?
The company maintains that it devotes extraordinary resources to ensuring its products’ safety. “Injuries like [these] cannot be prevented by football helmets, period,” its attorneys have said.
Nevertheless, Riddell Inc claimed from the very start, in 1939, that their helmets were safer than the leather helmets commonly in use at the time. If Hornung’s legal team can establish that Riddell Inc failed to warn players of the risks still inherent in using their product, the firm will likely withstand an adverse, yet long-coming, decision in court.