High School Football Player Wins $11.5M for Concussion

Football helmet at the feet of a player on the field

Hemera/Thinkstock

A jury awarded $11.5 million to a former high school football player accusing helmet maker Riddell Sports, Inc. of causing brain injuries he suffered as a teenager.

In 2008, during football practice at Trinidad High School in Trinidad, Colo., Rhett Ridolfi, now 22, suffered a concussion. He wasn’t taken to the hospital right away and is now paralyzed on the left side and has severe brain damage.

His parents sued Riddell, alleging the helmet was defective and that the company was negligent in failing to adequately warn players of the dangers of sustaining concussions despite the headgear.

Riddell, whose website calls it “the official helmet of the NFL,” faces complaints by thousands of former NFL players who claim the helmets didn’t protect against concussion injuries.

Head injuries have become big news since a string of NFL stars committed suicide, including Junior Seau, Ray Easterling, and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest and left a suicide note asking that his brain be studied for damage.

Repeated concussions can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease.

The worry and the lawsuits have spread not only among professional players, but in schoolyards and on football fields around the country.

Attorney Frank Azar

The jury in the Colorado case found the helmet maker 27 percent to blame for the injuries Ridolfi, now 22, and put the remainder of the responsibility on two of the school’s coaches. Other school officials who were also sued settled out of court for confidential amounts before trial.

Under the verdict, the company would be responsible for paying $3.1 million of the verdict, but the family’s attorney, Frank Azar, said he will ask the judge to make Riddell pay the whole award since, as government employees, the coaches are immune from the judgment.

“I think this jury has said [Riddell is] in very serious trouble,” said Azar.

The company has said it will appeal but defended its headgear.

“While disappointed in the jury’s decision not to fully exonerate Riddell, we are pleased the jury determined that Riddell’s helmet was not defective in any way,” the company said in a statement.

Besides the lawsuits by former NFL players, another high school student in Los Angeles has sued Riddell making similar accusations.

 

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