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NFL dodges liability over painkiller culture claimed by former players

Ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the federal judge found the evidence showed the players waited too long to sue.

(CN) — The National Football League again dodged a lawsuit by a group of eight retired players who claim excessive use of painkillers by their team doctors caused them permanent injuries and in some cases even led to drug addiction.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup agreed with the NFL that the players had waited too long to sue, as long as 36 years in one case, and that they had failed to show sufficient proof the negligence they claim the league exhibited caused their injuries.

"There is no genuine dispute that had plaintiffs done so, they would have readily learned of the facts of the NFL’s conduct that is the basis of their current claims" many years before 2013, Alsup wrote in his summary judgment order. "Indeed, the only 'investigation' plaintiffs say they did was to talk to their lawyer in 2013 and then, viola, they 'discovered' their cause of action."

An attorney for the retired players didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.

The players first sued in 2014 and their case been bouncing back and forth between Alsup and the Ninth Circuit. The judge twice granted the NFL's motion to dismiss and both times the Ninth Circuit reversed his decision. This time, the judge looked at the undisputed evidence to decide whether a case should go to trial — and he concluded it should not.

This past August, Alsup denied the former players' request to proceed as a class action of all NFL players who received drugs from their teams from 1973 to 2008. He found a trial involving the proposed nationwide class would implicate the law of at least 23 different states and become "a sprawling train-wreck."

Lead plaintiff Richard Dent, a former Chicago Bear and NFL Hall of Famer, claimed the NFL instructed team doctors from at least 1969 to 2012 to dole out drugs without prescriptions and without warning players of harmful side effects. Dent says he ended his career with an enlarged heart, permanent nerve damage in his foot and an addiction to painkillers.

The evidence the retired players had put forward to support their argument that the NFL's negligence caused their long-term injuries wasn't compelling enough for the case to go trial, Alsup found. He cited the declaration by a medical expert, Leslie Benet, that he said was "recycled" from a parallel lawsuit against the football teams.

"Dr. Benet did not review any of plaintiffs’ medical records or histories or speak to them or examine them personally before forming the opinions stated in the declaration plaintiffs now rely on," Alsup said. "More to the point, Dr. Benet’s declaration only states that the drugs plaintiffs took could have caused their current ailments, and that the risk of such ailments increased with excessive use of the drugs."

Alsup's ruling likely marks the end of the road for the players, although they could appeal it to the Ninth Circuit as well.

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