NFL Defeats Revived Painkillers Class Action

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The National Football League can’t be sued for allegedly pushing painkillers on hurt athletes to get them back on the field because retired players failed to show the league was directly involved in doling out drugs, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

“The NFL’s alleged pressure on the clubs to return players to play as soon as possible does not sufficiently support plaintiffs’ allegation that the NFL was directly involved in the clubs’ distribution of the medications,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote in a 15-page ruling.

Alsup was reviewing lead plaintiff Richard Dent’s sole negligence claim against the NFL after the Ninth Circuit revived the case in September 2018.

Dent, a former Chicago Bears player and NFL Hall of Famer, sued the league in May 2014. He claimed the NFL instructed team doctors from at least 1969 to 2012 to dole out unprescribed drugs without warning players of harmful side effects. Dent said he ended his career with an enlarged heart, permanent nerve damage in his foot and an addiction to painkillers because of the league’s conduct.

At a hearing last month, plaintiffs’ attorney Phil Closius, of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White in Baltimore, compared the NFL to a drug kingpin. Closius insisted the league controlled the distribution of painkillers without ever physically touching the substances, much like a crime boss profits from drugs sold by underlings.

But Alsup found that argument unavailing, noting that the players’ third amended complaint lacked firm details directly tying the NFL to the purportedly unlawful distribution of drugs.

“Plaintiffs do not allege that the NFL itself violated the relevant drug laws and regulations governing the medications at issue,” Alsup wrote. “That violation is specifically attributed to the club doctors and trainers.”

Deeming the third amended complaint the “best and final” version of the plaintiff’s lawsuit, Alsup dismissed the case without leave to amend.

The judge also emphasized as he has in prior rulings that his decision in no way minimizes “the need to protect the health and safety of our professional athletes,” but he also found the players failed to adequately allege the league violated drug laws. 

The NFL and plaintiffs’ attorney Closius did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

In February, the Ninth Circuit affirmed Alsup’s dismissal of a separate class action seeking to hold individual NFL teams liable for pushing painkillers on hurt athletes. The appeals court found the players waited too long to file their lawsuit.

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