Brain Injuries

NJ Judge Dismisses In re Riddell Concussion Reduction Litigation

Class litigation against Riddell, claiming the company falsely advertised its football helmets as able to reduce the incidence of concussions, was tossed out by a New Jersey federal judge, though the plaintiffs will have a chance to amend the claims.

U.S. District Chief Judge Jerome Simandle of the District of New Jersey on Jan. 15 granted a motion to dismiss in In re Riddell Concussion Reduction Litigation, though he did so without prejudice.

The plaintiffs’ “depiction of defendants’ marketing of their football helmets with such a wide brush has only obscured their claims,” Simandle said. “In lumping their allegations and in failing to articulate a consistent basis for their assertions of false advertising, plaintiffs have rendered implausible what may be viable claims.”

The suits, consolidated last year, claim the Rosemont, Ill.-based company used shoddy science to justify claims that its Revolution line of helmets boasted “concussion reduction technology” and reduced injury risks by 31 percent.

In 2002, Riddell began touting the helmets’ ability to reduce concussion risks by impact dispersion and other design features, but Riddell learned as early as 2000—when development of the Revolution was under way—that no helmet was capable of completely preventing concussion, the plaintiffs alleged.

The company funded a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study, published in February 2006 in the medical journal Neurosurgery, that compared concussion rates between two groups of high school players: those who wore a Revolution helmet and those who wore other helmets.

But the study, partly overseen by the company’s vice president of research and development, included too few players and excluded children younger than high school age, the plaintiffs alleged.

Despite Riddell’s “representations to the contrary, there is no material difference in the Revolution and other football helmets in regard to concussion prevention,” the complaint said—and it claimed Riddell was aware of that fact.

The plaintiffs relied on studies by the University of Wisconsin, finding that newer helmets likely don’t curtail concussion risks, and the Cleveland Clinic, finding that modern helmets offer no better protection than the leather helmets used in the earlier part of the last century.

Riddell moved for dismissal, arguing, among other points, that the plaintiffs fell short of the heightened pleading standard for fraud-based claims under Rule 9(b).

Simandle, sitting in Camden, N.J., agreed, finding that the “scattershot pleading lists examples of defendants’ marketing statements without identifying which specific statement(s), if any, plaintiffs were exposed to.”

Simandle added that the plaintiffs failed to allege ascertainable loss, as required by the state consumer-fraud statutes.

He also dismissed claims for equitable relief, because they are premised on the alleged fraudulent advertising.

Reported by: New Jersey Law Journal, January 16, 2015.



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