The father of a 22-year-old who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has filed a lawsuit against athletic companies who make football helmets. The brain injury helmet lawsuit alleges both Riddell and the owner of Schutt Sports, as well as other manufacturers, knew back in 2000 that head impacts associated with football were linked to brain injuries, but continued to market the helmets as safe.
The lawsuit is a reminder that a person does not need to have played professional football to suffer life-threatening brain trauma, and even young athletes are at risk of devastating head injuries
Youth Football Player Dies at Age 22
Following adolescence in which he played youth and high school football from 2001 through 2011, Cody Hamblin died at age 22. While out fishing with his grandfather on May 29, 2016, Hamblin suffered a seizure and fell into the water, where he drowned despite having been a strong swimmer. After his death, Hamblin’s parents allowed doctors to examine his brain, and he was diagnosed with CTE.
CTE is a degenerative brain condition linked to head trauma, but specialists can only diagnose it after the patient’s death. It has recently most commonly been associated with NFL players, but athletes from other sports also received CTE diagnoses. CTE is also associated with seizures, and Hamblin reportedly had no history of seizures.
According to Cody’s dad, Darren Hamblin, Cody suffered repeated concussions while he played football.
TBI Lawsuit: Football Helmets Made for Adults Not Children
According to the lawsuit, helmet makers’ safety standards are geared to adults and not to children, despite there being important differences in how adults and children experience and are affected by brain trauma. Furthermore, while children’s bodies and brains are still developing, the helmets they use in youth sports are geared to fit adult athletes.
Complicating matters even more for young athletes, according to the lawsuit, is that their heads and brains are disproportionately large compared to their bodies, making them more vulnerable to head and neck injuries, and brain trauma.
“Children possess unique features and vulnerabilities not possessed by fully developed, exceptionally fit adult athletes,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges wrongful death, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, and product liability.
Almost a dozen companies, including Riddell and the parent company to Schutt Sports, are named in the lawsuit.
Father Claims Football Helmet Manufacturers Should Take Responsibility
According to the brain injury helmet lawsuit, manufacturers have known for almost two decades that football hits that register at less than half the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) Severity Index have a 95 percent chance of causing a brain injury in an adult athlete. Despite this information, the lawsuit alleges, helmet makers continued to market youth helmets as meeting NOCSAE’s standards, giving parents and athletes a false sense that the helmets have been tested and proven safe for young athletes.
“The helmet manufacturers need to take responsibility for a product that’s not made for kids,” Darren Hamblin said. He went on, “they need to either make one that is for kids that can protect kids, or they just need to flat out say this is not intended for helmet contact.”
Riddell the Subject of Other Brain Injury Football Helmet Lawsuits
Hundreds of NFL players have also filed a lawsuit against Riddell, alleging they suffer symptoms of brain injuries thanks to the repetitive head hits they experienced while playing for the league. The lawsuit also named the NFL, which settled with players in 2015. More than 15,000 former players have reportedly registered for the settlement. Riddell, however, did not take part in the settlement and has disputed the allegations in the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, brain injury lawsuits related to youth athletes continue to go to court. Recently, a 14-year-old and his family reached a $7.1 settlement with Grossmont Union High School District after the family alleged Rashaun Council was improperly allowed to return to a football game despite showing signs of a brain injury.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive, degenerative disease linked to repeated head injuries such as concussions. Although it is most commonly found in athletes who played contact sports—including football, boxing and hockey—sports not associated with heavy contact, including soccer, have also been linked to the condition.
Symptoms of CTE include depression, aggression, difficulty with impulse control, confusion, and impaired judgment. Research suggests patients with CTE have a protein called Tau that spreads throughout the patient’s brain and kills brain cells. Although young athletes like Cody Hamblin can develop CTE, it often takes years after initial head impacts for symptoms to appear. Unfortunately, CTE diagnosis requires brain tissue be sliced and analyzed for signs of Tau clumps, meaning patients cannot be diagnosed with the condition until after death.
This makes the condition currently incurable, though some of the symptoms associated with CTE can be treated with medication.