Retired NFL players won reinstatement of their lawsuit contending the NFL distributed prescription drugs to players in violation of state and federal law leaving players with permanent injuries.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday revived the class action lawsuit saying it was not preempted by labor law. The court also rejected the NFL claim that the players failed to exhaust the grievance procedures.
Richard Dent, who retired after 14 years with four different NFL teams, sued the NFL claiming they doctors and trainers gave him hundreds or potentially thousands of injections and pills containing powerful painkillers in an effort to keep him on the field.
He alleged he was never warned about the potential side effects or long-term risks and he ended his career with an enlarged heart and permanent nerve damage in his foot, and an addiction to painkillers.
In 2014, Dent and nine other retired players filed a class action against the NFL seeking to cover 1,000 former players. It alleged that since 1969, the NFL had distributed controlled substances and prescription drugs to its players in alleged violation of both state and federal laws.
The drugs included opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and local anesthetics and pain-masking medications.
While allowing the case to proceed, the panel said that the plaintiffs should not conflate the liability of the NFL to potential liability of individual teams. It sent back the case to limit review to claims arising from the NFL’s conduct and whether it amounts to negligence.
The court said, “Carelessness in the handling of dangerous substances is both illegal and morally blameworthy, given the risk of injury entails. Imposing liability on those involved in improper prescription-drug distribution will prevent harm by encouraging responsible entities to ensure that drugs are administered safely.”
The court also said it would not be an undue burden on the NFL, which should be complying with the law. “Thus, we conclude that to the extent the NFL is involved in the distribution of controlled substances, it has a duty to conduct such activities with reasonable care.”
The panel said preemption only extends to arbitration to resolved disputes over rights in their contract agreements. The claim of violation of federal law in distribution of prescription drugs does not fall under a contract term.
Case: Dent v. NFL, No. 15-15143