NFL Painkiller Class Action Lawsuit is a Toss Up Between League and Players
Federal Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) made unannounced visits on Sunday to multiple National Football League teams as part of a continuing investigation. Agents investigated the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Seattle Seahawks. This investigation was fueled by a class action lawsuit brought against the NFL last summer.
In May 2014, the NFL painkiller lawsuit was brought by approximately 1,300 former players claiming in essence that the team doctors “intentionally, recklessly and negligently created and maintained a culture of drug misuse, substituting players’ health for profit.” Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that since 1969, team doctors have been supplying medications in ways that constituted a dangerous misuse, and that the doctors fraudulently concealed the dangers and side effects from players in order to keep them on the field. They believe that the NFL placed priority of profit before the health of the players. Plaintiffs claim that they have sustained severe injuries from this medical misfeasance, including but not limited to heart attacks, kidney failures, and addiction. The NFL has requested that the federal judge dismiss the suit.
Among other defenses, the NFL is likely to assert that the plaintiffs are barred by the statute of limitations, which is a legal device to ensure that claims are brought in an efficient matter. Specifically, these statutes set the maximum period in which a plaintiff can wait before filing a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is not brought within the time frame then the right to make a claim on that matter is lost. In some instances, however, a statute of limitations can be extended, or tolled, based on a delay in discovery of the injury. This would enable the plaintiff to have an extended period beyond the statute of limitations to bring such action upon the defendants once injury is discovered, and to prevent unjust enrichment.
In California, the statute of limitations for a personal injury suit is two years. In other words, from the time the cause of action occurred–in this case the date of injury–the plaintiffs’ have two years to bring forth a lawsuit. The NFL will likely argue that the statute of limitations has expired, and bar Plaintiffs from bringing the lawsuit. Specifically, it would argue that some of the specific actions brought within the complaint date back to 1969, which far exceeds the statute of limitations.
Under the delayed discovery rule, the statute of limitations deadline is tolled and time does not start to run until the Plaintiffs’ discover, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injuries or harm and that it was caused by the wrongdoing of the defendants. The plaintiffs’ have argued just that. In their amended complaint, they claim that the statute of limitations should be tolled, on grounds that they had not discovered, and had no good reason to know of their injuries until recently. Specifically, they argue that league doctors did not reveal the names of medications, and there were poor records regarding dispensing medication. Thus, such acts constituted concealment, which ultimately caused the plaintiffs’ injuries.
The NFL is clearly under a lot of heat at the moment. It still has the NFL Concussion Litigation going on, and the DEA’s visits last Sunday only added fuel to the fire with the current lawsuit. This case is still being heard in the northern district of California on the ruling of NFL’s motion to dismiss, but my gut tells me that there will be no dismissal. If that is the case, it will be interesting to see how the statute of limitations arguments play out, and more importantly, what actions are implemented within the NFL.