In a lawsuit against the NFL, former Lion Jahvid Best is seeking economic and non-economic damages that include regular medical monitoring to test for neurodegenerative disorders or diseases. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
A sports law expert said he expects the NFL to fight hard against former Lions running back Jahvid Best’s lawsuit that accuses the league of fraud, intentional misrepresentation and negligence with regard to mild traumatic brain injuries.
Best, who filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, suffered three concussions with the Lions after being a first-round draft pick in 2010, and the last one in October 2011 forced him to miss the entire 2012 season and be released by the team in July 2013.
“I think (the NFL will) fight it hard because they don’t want to face 20, 30 different lawsuits from individual players every year for the next 10 years,” Geoffrey Rapp, a sports law professor at the University of Toledo, told The Detroit News on Wednesday.
Best, who turns 25 today, is seeking economic and non-economic damages that include regular medical monitoring to test for neurodegenerative disorders or diseases. The 90-page filing does not include a dollar figure, only that it is in excess of $25,000, and Best’s attorney, Bret Schnitzer, has not returned several calls seeking comment.
Schnitzer’s office did provide a statement in which he declined to give a health update on Best.
Best’s lawsuit also claims the NFL failed in its duty to protect players by allowing him to enter the draft in 2010 despite his history of concussions while playing in college at Cal. In doing so, Best alleges the league caused him permanent and severe injuries.
“There is absolutely no merit to these claims,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email, referring to claims of permission for the draft and that the league misrepresented and concealed medical evidence about brain injuries.
Best suffered two concussions during his junior season in 2009; one that forced him to miss the final four games. He gave up his senior season and entered the draft.
The allegation that the NFL should have protected Best from entering the league will be hard to prove, Rapp said, especially considering the growing evidence in recent years linking concussions to Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), dementia and other illnesses.
“I think that’s a tough claim to make because (Best) has the same knowledge of his concussion history, if not more knowledge of his concussion history, as the NFL has,” Rapp said. “So with the tort law, if a plaintiff is aware of the danger the plaintiff is confronting and willingly confronts it, the plaintiff has a tough time recovering.”
Rapp published a paper last year titled “Suicide, Concussions and the NFL” for the Florida International University Law Review.
Best is also suing helmet manufacturer Riddell and parent company Easton-Bell Sports, claiming the helmets were defective in design and unsafe for their intended purpose.
Riddell spokeswoman Erin Griffin declined to comment.
A Lions spokesman declined comment because the team is not party to the lawsuit; however, Best reportedly filed a workers’ compensation claim against the team.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Philadelphia denied the preliminary approval of a $765 million settlement between the NFL and a class action by retired players because she thought the sum wouldn’t be enough to cover the necessary health costs for 20,000 retired players who qualify.
The settlement will provide as much as $5 million to each former player, depending on the severity of his neurological condition, so Rapp said it’s reasonable to think Best is suing for more.
Although the NFL agreed to the settlement in August 2013, the league did not accept responsibility for the claims made by the former players, and the players never proved that their injuries were caused by football.
The decision to settle, Rapp said, was effectively a public relations decision by the NFL. The league had revenue of $9.5 billion in 2012, so paying the settlement was a more worthwhile proposition than a litigation that may have cost the league billions of dollars in damages.
In some ways, Best is better off fighting the case on his own because he does not have to take into account the needs of players from a past generation and can choose to settle or continue fighting on his own accord, Rapp said.
However, suffering a concussion is a known risk of playing football, which Rapp said hurts Best’s case. And while there is some evidence linking concussions to neurological disease, it may not be precise enough yet to prove Best’s claims.
“Even though I think the legal road to recovery is a tough one for someone in Best’s position, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he’d win,” Rapp said. “We just don’t know because we haven’t tried these cases, and this could be one of them that teaches us a little bit more about whether a plaintiff in a case like this should be able to recover.”
Best is expected join Cal’s coaching staff next season as a student assistant and work to complete his undergraduate degree.