By David S. Casey, Jr.
Football has always been a rough sport. Knee injuries, fractures, broken arms, and “getting your bell rung,” have been part of the fabric of the game. Historically, serious head injuries and spinal cord injuries in football were relatively rare. However, there were exceptions. Back in the 1970’s, occasionally a football coach would get carried away. I remember a case in which a football coach ordered his high school players to ram their heads against a wall. The young teenagers literally ran into a brick wall with their helmets and one of the students was knocked unconscious, suffering a head injury and concussion. The family came to our law firm because of the serious impact on their son. The conduct of the coach in directing the players to “spike the wall” was far outside the regular norm of football practice. Our firm went forward and represented their son. We were successful in obtaining a recovery for him. With the Chargers arriving in San Diego in the 1960’s and the high scoring games of the former American Football League, San Diegans embraced football. High school and college football was very popular.
Tragically, playing for the Mt. Miguel High School football team, a young player named Kip Hayes was injured and became a quadriplegic. CaseyGerry undertook representation of him against the manufacturer of the helmet, the Riddell Helmet Company, alleging that the design of the helmet was the cause of his quadriplegia. We were successful in obtaining a substantial settlement for him during the trial of his case. While this was viewed as a rarity, orthopedic injuries continued to mount in football with the aging of the player. Thirty to four years later after playing football, many men found themselves hobbled with the orthopedic injuries that they had earlier suffered playing football. However, orthopedic injuries were to be expected and a known risk from the sport.
With the proliferation of competitiveness in high school football, inspired by the tenacious and hard-hitting films of players in the NFL striking each other, players became more and more aggressive. At the high school level, teenagers would take numerous doses of Ibuprofen or other painkillers before a game to deaden any pain they might feel during the game. CaseyGerry came across cases where players would take as many as 7 or 8 Ibuprofen before game time. As they engaged in the physical battle of football, the drugs limited their physical feelings of pain. This could later lead to far more serious consequences for them.
Even in the last decade, the mantra in football games at the high school level from coaches was that “getting your bell rung” was part of the game. Students playing football were told that when they were hit, if they got dazed, they were expected to go back in the game. It was a sign of their manhood to be able to fight through dizziness or disorientation caused by impact to the head. We came across many young high school players who were dazed or temporarily knocked out in football games, yet would return feeling the pressure of the coach, peer pressure created with their teammates, and the excitement of the crowds to keep playing despite potential harm to themselves. Tragically, some were seriously injured and lawsuits ensued. Over the last decade, an average of twelve high school athletes died each year while playing football.
It was not until CaseyGerry’s involvement as one of the law firms representing individual football players who had suffered head injuries while playing for the NFL that it began to change. Several years ago, individual football players who were suffering dementia and early onset of neurological problems started filing actions against the NFL for injuries suffered by their players. Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was made famous in the movie “Concussion,” was the first to diagnose a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in deceased football players beginning with neurological review of former NFL player Mike Webster’s brain. Numerous lawsuits were brought throughout the country and consolidated before U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A small group of lawyers were appointed by the court to represent all of the football players in the United States. CaseyGerry was honored to be one of those firms. That litigation resulted in compensation of over $1 billion for the players who had suffered trauma as a result of multiple head injuries while playing for the NFL.