Insufficient helmet padding contributes to high school football player's injury

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Case in Point

August 14, 2012

Insufficient helmet padding contributes to high school football player's injury 

The parents of the teenager, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a hit, alleged defective polyurethane padding in the front of the helmet lost its shock-absorbing capacity. Suit also alleged the school district negligently allowed the teen to play with an earlier concussion. The helmet maker settled for $500,000, and the school district settled for about $4.38 million. Eveland v. City of San Marcos.

Photo: Michael Chamberlin / Shutterstock.com

Scott Eveland was playing in a high school football game and wearing a Ridell Revolution helmet when he staggered off the field and collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury—including a subdural hematoma and midline brain shift—and cerebral edema. He underwent emergency surgery but suffered complications, including seizures and multiple strokes.

Eveland is now unable to walk or stand without assistance, and he has limited ability to speak or move voluntarily. He can communicate using an iPad or specially designed keyboard, but someone must support his arm at the elbow. He uses a wheelchair and requires full-time care. His paid medical expenses totaled about $1.5 million, and his future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at about $18 million.

Eveland’s parents, on his behalf, sued the helmet manufacturer, Ridell, Inc., and several related companies. The plaintiffs alleged that the section of polyurethane padding in the front of the helmet lost its shock-absorbing capacity when subjected to the wearer’s increased body temperature, rendering it incapable of properly protecting the front of the head. They asserted that a film of the game showed helmet-to-helmet contact on Eveland’s forehead area and that he would not likely have sustained serious injury if the helmet had been sufficiently padded. They were prepared to show that the section of polyurethane in the front of the helmet had been manufactured in-house, while the padding in the helmet’s side, back, and crown—which maintained its shock absorption when heated to body temperature levels—had been manufactured by a different company.

The plaintiffs also sued the school district, alleging that members of the high school’s athletic staff were negligent in putting Eveland into the game despite his complaints of headaches and visual disturbances consistent with a possible earlier concussion. The plaintiffs contended that Eveland likely suffered a blow to the head during the game that resulted in second-impact syndrome—a condition in which the brain swells rapidly and catastrophically after a person suffers a second head injury before the symptoms from an earlier one have resolved.

The Ridell defendants argued that Eveland’s injuries were the result of his having played too soon after a prior concussion. They also argued that the helmet met all applicable standards, which required that the helmet be tested at room temperature only, not at elevated body temperatures. The plaintiffs countered that the standard was inadequate.

The school district denied that it had any notice of Eveland’s complaints.

The helmet defendants settled before trial for $500,000. Later in the pretrial proceedings, the school district settled for about $4.38 million.

Citation: Eveland v. City of San Marcos, No. 37-2008-00091303-CU-PO-NC (Cal., San Diego Co. Super. Mar. 9, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members David S. Casey Jr. and Robert J. Francavilla, both of San Diego.

Plaintiff experts: Richard Borkowski, sports safety, Narberth, Pa.; Peter Francis, biomechanical engineering, Poway, Calif.; Cindy Kramer, athletic training, Sherman Oaks, Calif.; Vrijesh Tantuwaya, neurosurgery, San Diego; and Andrew Blecher, orthopedic surgery, Van Nuys, Calif.


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