NFL Teams Can’t Dodge Painkiller Class Action

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a class action claiming National Football League teams pumped injured players with painkillers to get them back on the field.
Lead plaintiff Etopia Evans, widow of the late Charles “Chuck” Evans, who played for the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, sued all 32 NFL teams in May 2015. It was transferred from Maryland to Northern California in March.
Evans et al. claim NFL teams conspired since at least 1964 to have trainers dole out unprescribed pills and injections, sometimes mixing them in “dangerous cocktails,” to get players back into games without warning them of the long-term side effects.
Chuck Evans died alone in a jail cell in 2008 two days after he was imprisoned for failing to pay child support. His widow says he spent his money on painkillers, to which he became addicted while playing professional football.
An attorney for the NFL clubs urged U.S. District Judge William Alsup to dismiss the lawsuit at a June hearing, saying the claims were no different than those alleged in another class action, Dent v. NFL, which Alsup dismissed in 2014.
In Dent, Alsup found the NFL had no duty to “intervene or stop mistreatment” by the league’s clubs and that the claims were governed by collective bargaining agreements subject to arbitration. That ruling was appealed to the Ninth Circuit last year.
On July 1, Alsup found two major differences between Evans and Dent. Evans sued individual NFL teams, not the NFL, and alleges intentional, rather than negligent, conduct.
Alsup was not persuaded by the teams’ argument that players’ claims are governed by collective bargaining agreements and subject to arbitration. He found that no labor agreement could sanction intentional violation of federal drug laws, so an interpretation of such agreements would be irrelevant.
He also rejected the teams’ contention that the claims were time-barred.
Though the complaint was not filed within Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations for conduct that allegedly occurred until 2010, Alsup found “the nature of at least some of the injuries was latent and slow in developing.”
So the statute of limitations clock did not start ticking until the plaintiffs became aware of their injuries.
“It is not possible to say as a matter of law on this record that the statute of limitations categorically bars plaintiffs’ claims,” Alsup wrote in the 8-page ruling.
The NFL teams’ attorney Gregg Levy and class attorney Philip Closius did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
Defeating the motion to dismiss opens up the next stage of litigation — discovery, giving the retired players a chance to seek records from NFL teams.
With 13 named plaintiffs, Evans seeks to certify a class of all retired NFL players who were given painkillers by team doctors and trainers without a valid prescription, examination, diagnosis or warning, from the early 1960s until today.

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