Ninth Circuit Finds Clock Ran Out on NFL Painkiller Conspiracy Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday rejected a class action seeking to hold National Football League teams liable for conspiring to push painkillers on hurt athletes to get them back on the field, finding the claims time-barred.

(AP File Photo)

A three-judge panel ruled the players failed to adequately explain why they lacked the essential knowledge to file their lawsuit within the four-year statute of limitations.

“In this case, plaintiffs knew of their injury – that their careers had been ‘cut short’ – as soon as their careers ended due to physical injuries,” the panel wrote in a 6-page unpublished memorandum.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015, more than 10 years after the last of the plaintiffs in the case ended his career. Jerry Wunsch played eight seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks before retiring in 2004.

The players contended an exception applied to their case because they did not discover the full extent of harm until 2014. That’s when another former NFL player, Richard Dent, sued the league in a separate class action over painkillers.

They further claimed team doctors withheld the names of prescriptions doled out to players and lied to them about the harmful permanent side effects.

But the panel refused to apply an exception to the statute of limitations based on claims that NFL teams fraudulently concealed their misconduct. The panel found the players failed to demonstrate that they diligently tried to uncover the truth.

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint is replete with allegations demonstrating plaintiffs’ knowledge of the facts on which their RICO claim is based, such as the receipt of pills on airplanes, in unmarked containers, and without prescriptions,” the panel wrote.

The panel consisted of U.S. Circuit Judges Consuelo Callahan, N. Randy Smith and Mary Murguia.

Lead plaintiff Etopia Evans, widow of the late Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens player Charles “Chuck” Evans, filed the federal class action against all 32 NFL teams in May 2015.

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, which he became addicted to while playing professional football.

The case was transferred from Maryland to Northern California in 2016.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the conspiracy claims in February 2017 before striking down the remainder of the lawsuit later that year.

This past September, the Ninth Circuit reversed Alsup’s dismissal of a separate class action against the NFL, rather than individual teams, which accuses the league of pushing painkillers on hurt athletes, causing permanent injuries and drug addictions.

NFL spokesman Sam Drexler and lawyers for the NFL and plaintiff class did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday morning.

The plaintiffs are represented by Phillip J. Closius of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White in Baltimore. The NFL is represented by Jack DiCanio of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in Palo Alto, California, and Gregg H. Levy of Covington Burling in Washington.

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