SBJ/November 14-20, 2011/Labor and Agents

NFL argues elements of CBAs pre-empt retired players’ injury suits

Former NFL players cannot sue the league for playing-related injuries because those ailments were covered under previous collective-bargaining agreements, the NFL is contending in two separate lawsuits brought by retirees.

The league’s legal argument emerged last week in a Pennsylvania federal court in the NFL’s response to seven former players who in August became among the first retirees to sue the league for injuries they say they suffered during their playing days. The players — among whom is former Super Bowl-winning Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon — contend the league hid the true severity of their injuries from them and from all players.

The NFL last week responded that, “Plaintiffs’ claims are … preempted because they rest on purported obligations that arise under the CBAs,” referring to the labor deals in place while the plaintiffs competed.

The players contend, the league continued, “that the NFL failed to implement adequate rules and regulations regarding player health and safety, and failed adequately to enforce those safety-related rules that it did promulgate. The CBAs, however, expressly delineate the obligations of the NFL with respect to both the promulgation and enforcement of health and safety-related rules for NFL players.”

The NFL is using the same line of defense in a lawsuit brought in a California federal court by dozens of former players. Last week, those players filed to have the case removed to a state court. The request was made so as not to have to contend with federal labor issues, therein spotlighting a labor law defense from the NFL.

“The logical conclusion of permitting Defendants to hide behind the CBAs is to provide the NFL with a free pass to create an unsafe working environment,” the motion by the retirees to move the case to state court said.

The lawsuit, which includes spouses among the plaintiffs, also names equipment makers Riddell and Easton-Sports as defendants. The McMahon lawsuit only names the NFL.

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