Federal appeals court reinstates players' lawsuit claiming NFL recklessly gave them painkillers

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) A federal appeals court in San Francisco today revived a lawsuit filed against the National Football League by 10 retired players who allege the league "recklessly and negligently" gave them opiates and other painkillers that left them with lasting injuries.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a ruling in which U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco dismissed the 2014 lawsuit on the grounds that it was preempted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act.

The labor law provides procedures for resolving disputes concerning collective bargaining agreements.

The appeals court said the lawsuit was not preempted because the claims in the lawsuit did not arise from the players' collective bargaining agreements. 

The lawsuit, led by former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, alleges the NFL "maintained a culture of drug misuse" by giving players inappropriate painkillers to mask their pain and keep them on the field without warning them of the consequences.

They allege the use and overuse of "vast amounts" of opioids and anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications left them with drug addictions, orthopedic injuries, heart problems, and nerve damage.

The legal claims in the case include negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation. The lawsuit asks for a medical monitoring program for retirees and compensatory and punitive financial awards.

The lawsuit now goes back to Alsup's court for further proceedings, which could include summary judgment motions or an eventual trial. The appeals court noted it was not ruling on the merits of the players' claims but rather only on whether it could proceed for the time being.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement, "We have strong arguments on the merits of the case, which we have litigated successfully already. Every claim brought by every plaintiff was dismissed for a variety of reasons and we expect the same outcome."

A lawyer for the plaintiffs was not immediately available for comment.