An Ohio father has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the sports equipment company that manufactured his late son’s football helmet. Darren Hamblin claims that Riddell Sports Group and its parent company, Schutt Sport, didn’t warn him or his son Cody that design flaws in the helmet he used increased the risk of long-term brain damage. In addition, the suit also claims that the helmet contained defects that made it less effective.
Hamblin’s son died in 2016 after having a seizure during a fishing trip with his grandfather. The unexpected seizure caused Cody, 22, to fall into the water where he drowned before help could arrive. Cody had developed neurological damage playing youth and high school football and that is part of what his family believes caused the seizure. Neither Riddell Sports Group or its parent company has responded to the lawsuit.
After an autopsy, it was confirmed that Cody did, in fact, suffer from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a neurological disorder caused by repeated head trauma. Usually, victims of CTE suffer from symptoms like memory loss, depression, and an inability to focus. Though seizures like the one Cody suffered aren’t always directly linked to the disorder, some studies have found signs of it in as much as a third of older people who have epilepsy. While Cody’s seizures may not be directly linked to CTE, it is formally listed as a contributing cause of his death. CTE is only conclusively determined after postmortem analysis, and while Cody’s parents did not request a full body autopsy, a brain autopsy did confirm that he suffered from the disorder.
The lawsuit further fuels the debate over whether kids under a certain age should be allowed to play tackle football. The prevailing argument is that the repeated effects of head trauma can stunt a child’s neurological development while children’s spines and general bone structure ⏤ which are still developing ⏤ can’t fully absorb the impact of a direct hit.
There is also a precedent for this kind of lawsuit. In 2016, the NCAA paid out a $1.2 million settlement to a family whose son died from a head injury while practicing with the Frostburg State University football team.