SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Three National Football League teams must continue to fight off a class action claiming they pushed painkillers on hurt athletes, though a federal judge blew the whistle Monday on most claims against 32 teams.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup found only two former players with claims against three teams – the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and Los Angeles Chargers - could pursue their grievances under Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations.
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. Evans and 12 former players say the teams conspired since at least 1964 to dole out unprescribed pills and injections to put hurt athletes back in play without warning them of the long-term effects.
Alsup in February dismissed with prejudice conspiracy claims against the teams, finding the players could not allege they suffered financial harm within the four-year statute of limitations.
In his Monday ruling, Alsup had harsh words for the plaintiff’s 124-page amended complaint, grumbling that much of it repeated “the same sweeping criticisms and accusations, directed against the NFL as a whole, that permeated” the previous complaint.
“Only a fraction” of the complaint’s 50 relevant pages of specific allegations pertained to the named plaintiffs, rather than potential class members not yet certified by the court, Alsup wrote.
“Plaintiffs do not have leave to patch up weaknesses in their pleadings by expanding their numbers at this stage,” Alsup ruled. “It is important at the outset to determine whether the named plaintiffs can state claims for relief before deciding whether or not they can represent a class.”
But claims of intentional misrepresentation against 12 of the 32 teams could survive a motion to dismiss, Alsup ruled. The plaintiffs said the teams falsely represented that they cared about the players and prioritized their safety.
However, when considering the NFL teams’ motion for summary judgment, Alsup found most of those claims were barred by Maryland’s statute of limitations.
Only two former players - Alphonso Carreker and Reggie Walker – suffered injuries within the three years before the lawsuit was filed in May 2015, Alsup wrote.
Carreker, who played for the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos from 1984 to 1991, had to get heart surgery in 2013 after anti-inflammatory drugs stopped working because of resistance he’d built up from taking painkillers during his career, according to the complaint.
After suffering a sprained ankle while playing for the San Diego Chargers (now the Los Angeles Chargers), Walker said he was given Toradol injections by a team doctor before every game for the rest of his career. Now that he’s retired, Walker continues to feel pain in his ankles.
Those are the only claims that will proceed in the lawsuit and serve as the basis for class certification due to Maryland’s statute of limitations, Alsup ruled.
Alsup set a deadline of June 1 for the plaintiffs to file a motion for class certification.
Attorneys for the proposed class of retired players and the NFL teams did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
The class is represented by William Sinclair of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White in Baltimore.
The NFL teams are represented by Jack DiCanio of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in Palo Alto.
Alsup dismissed a similar lawsuit against the NFL in December 2014. An appeal of that ruling is pending in the Ninth Circuit.
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