The mother of a Chicago football player has filed a product liability lawsuit against the maker of a helmet her son had been wearing when he suffered a fatal blow during a game last year. The school district is also a named defendant, accused of negligence resulting in the teen’s wrongful death. football

According to The Chicago Tribune, the teen suffered blunt force trauma to his head during a game and died the following day at a local hospital. The teen’s mother, as administrator of his estate, alleges there was an air bladder inside a helmet, and that this was intended to increase protection and reduce the risk of a head injury. However, this inflation device didn’t work properly, the complaint alleges. Not only is the manufacturer responsible for making a defective product, but the school district is responsible for allowing players to use a defective helmet, according to the filing.

The 17-year-old was reportedly blocked from making a tackle during one of the last plays of the high school football game in October 2015, and the block was delivered to the left side of his helmet. This amounted to incidental contact, and caused the teen’s head and helmet to slam to the ground with great force. Immediately after, the teen reported he was dizzy. He had a headache. Then he fell to the ground and suffered a series of seizures. He remained unconscious as he was rushed to the hospital. A CT scan revealed swelling and bleeding near his brain. He never regained consciousness and died the following day. 

The helmet was later inspected and, according to the lawsuit, the air bladder on the crown of the helmet lost 50 percent of its pressure after five minutes, while the rear air bladder lost 10 percent of its pressure after just 10 minutes. Plaintiff alleges school district workers were aware the helmets had to be properly inflated in order to make sure there was a low risk of head injury for players, and yet failed in the duty to make sure each helmet had proper inflation. There is also an allegation that the district was negligent in not providing timely medical care to the teen immediately after his brain injury.

The product liability portion of the lawsuit alleges defendant manufacturer knew or should have known the helmets were unreasonably dangerous if the bladders weren’t inflated and the firm failed to warn about the potential hazard.

It should be noted that there is no federal product liability law, which means most of these cases are going to be based on state-law theories of negligence, strict liability or breach of warranty. There are also some commercial statutes in each state that could provide guidance on certain warranties that companies are required to offer and whether those were breached.

There are three basic types of product defects:

  • Design defect. This is when there is some aspect of the design of a product that is fundamentally unsafe.
  • Manufacturing defect. This is when a mistake happens in the course of a product’s manufacture or assembly.
  • Marketing defect. This is when there are errors in the way a product is marketed or if there are insufficient instructions, inadequate warnings about safety or improper labeling.

Football is one – if not the most – dangerous sports for youth athletes and there has been a large push in recent years to make it safer. However, these efforts have failed to fully prevent concussions, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and others in this contact sport.

Product liability lawsuits can be complicated, but it basically comes down to the reasonable expectations of the consumer and whether the product lived up to those. If not, the plaintiff could be successful. Likely, the defense will assert the assumption of risk doctrine. That is, players assume some level of risk when they play a contact sport like this. However, that doesn’t mean every injury suffered on the field was inevitable. Some are the product of negligence.

If you have been a victim of a school-related injury in Miami, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Mother sues helmet manufacturer after son dies from injury in football game, Oct. 20, 2016, By Nick Swedberg, Chicago Tribune

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