Class Action Against NFL Expands as 250 Players Join Painkiller Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 30, 2014

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The number of players suing the NFL in U.S. District Court in Northern California has swelled to 750, as a group of 250 players joined named Plaintiffs Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and others. The suit alleges that team doctors and trainers regularly, and without regard for the law, supplied players with painkillers, narcotics and other controlled substances to ease the physical pain of football Sundays.

Lawsuit Alleges Negligence in Supplying Prescription Drugs

NFLSteven Silverman, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, is seeking class certification for the claim. The players allege they were given drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin, Torodal and Percodan to mask the pain associated with play on the gridiron. Sleep aids such as Ambien were also allegedly “handed out like candy at Halloween.”

Containing allegations of fraud, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation and negligence per se—as well as countless allegations criminal and ethical violations of medical laws—the complaint is 83 pages long. The allegations detail numerous examples of drugs being given to players who often did not have an appropriate prescription. For some players, the end result was addiction and a lifetime of continuing health problems.

The NFL has been under fire—and is being sued—for alleged concealment of the known risks of concussions sustained during NFL play. The mounting legal woes could cause numerous headaches for a league that has, historically, been almost militantly protective of its image as the league where men are gladiators engaging on a field of battle.

High Profile Plaintiffs

The painkiller suit, while smaller in plaintiff numbers than the concussion lawsuit, benefits from the high profile presence of former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. Famous for his outspoken—and occasionally downright strange—demeanor, McMahon led the Bears to victory in the 1985 Super Bowl. Long since retired, McMahon offers a number of disturbing stories in the suit. Among that shocking revelations are the fact that McMahon unknowingly suffered a broken neck at some point during his career.

McMahon, along with fellow Chicago Bear Keith Van Horne, also allege that team doctors wantonly prescribed strong drugs for everything from minor aches and pain to debilitating orthopedic injuries. Players were often plied with “cocktails” containing various combinations of drugs designed to elicit sleep or even uppers designed to serve as pick-me-ups on game and practice days.

A Move Toward Class Certification

As the suit moves toward class certification, professional athletes from other leagues will undoubtedly look to the NFL litigation and discuss whether similar causes of action exist. Former NHL players have already followed the NFL players’ lead by filing their own concussion suits. As the 2014-2015 season draws closer, the issues raised in the suit are sure to be a topic of discussion.

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