The New York-headquartered National Football League can’t claim California residency to gain better insurance protection from thousands of athletes’ brain injury claims. The California Second District Court of Appeal said the state may not be the proper forum for the NFL’s claim that its 32 insurance carriers had a duty to cover it against claims from 187 policies issued over a 60-year period.
The NFL is not a California “resident” for the purpose of a court forum, even though three teams are based in California, the appeals court said. But the case is not dismissed. The panel approved the Los Angeles trial judge’s decision to put the case on hold until a similar suit in New York state court is resolved.
The league had argued it was an unincorporated association that resides wherever its member football clubs are located.
The NFL is being sued in multiple states by dozens of former players alleging lifelong brain damage from on-field injuries dating back to the 1950s.
The vast majority of the insurance policies were brokered and delivered to the NFL in New York city, although prior to 1977 the NFL relied primarily on California-based insurance brokers and offices, according to the court.
In 2011, 73 former players sued the NFL and NFL Properties, along with helmet-maker Riddell in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging concussions and other injuries sustained during their careers resulted in brain damage. The players say the NFL negligently failed to protect them from long-term injuries.
Since then many more suits have been filed around the country.
The NFL then had another Los Angeles suit removed to federal court and argued the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was the best forum. Since then more than 174 lawsuits by 3,700 players and 2,000 spouses have been filed.
In 2012, Alterra American Insurance Co. sued the NFL in New York state court asking the court there to confirm it is not obligated to defend or indemnify the NFL.
Two days later, the NFL filed this lawsuit in Los Angeles naming Alterra and 31 other insurance companies, claiming breach of contract.
Justice O’Neill said there was “no strong presumption in favor of the NFL’s” choice of a California forum and the insurers didn’t show they were seriously inconvenienced by the choice. The trial judge was correct to put the case on hold, rather than dismiss it outright, O’Neill said.
Case: NFL v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., No. B245619