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Jury Exonerates Riddell From Blame in Student's Football-Injury Lawsuit

A Los Angeles jury last week found football-helmet maker Riddell not responsible for a head injury suffered by a former student-athlete while wearing one of the company's helmets.

Edward Acuna, a former Garey High School (Pomona, Calif.) student, sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fall of 2009 that left him partially paralyzed, according to the Los Angeles Times. The hit left him "unable to utter simple words" and wiped out his short-term memory, the paper reports.

He sued Riddell, claiming that the company intentionally manufactured helmets without the most cutting-edge technology. His lawyers argued that pads made of a material known as high density vinyl nitrile would provide more protection than those used by Riddell, which are made of polyurethane, per the Times.

The jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes before absolving Riddell of all blame in the case, however.

"First and foremost, we are sensitive to the unfortunate situation involving this young athlete and the injury that he suffered. We offer our best wishes to him and his family," said Brian Roche, Riddell's general counsel, in a statement. "However, we are pleased that the jury determined that the Riddell helmet was neither defective nor the cause of this athlete's injury. The jury also recognized Riddell's dedication to designing and manufacturing the most innovative and protective football helmets in the market."

Last April, a Colorado jury found that Riddell failed to adequately warn players about the dangers of concussions on its helmets and ordered the company to pay $3.1 million to the family of an injured former student-athlete. Sen Tom Udall, D-N.M., has specifically singled out Riddell in the past for allegedly using misleading claims about one of their helmets reducing the risk of concussions.

The Colorado jury, however, rejected the argument that the padding in the Riddell helmet wasn't safe enough, much like the Los Angeles jury did last week.

On average, football helmets only reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury by 20 percent compared to not wearing a helmet at all, according to a study released earlier this year. The study tested four of Riddell's helmets—the Riddell 360, the Riddell Revolution, the Riddell Revolution Speed, and the Riddell VSR4—along with six other helmet designs from different manufacturers. It found that football helmets do little to protect against rotational forces, which are often responsible for serious brain damage (including concussions).

A study presented last July at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's annual meeting found the age and brand of a football helmet to be unassociated with a reduced risk of concussion, despite contrary claims from certain manufacturers.

In short, there's little scientific evidence to suggest that football helmets can completely protect against concussions. Thus, anyone alleging otherwise in a lawsuit will face an uphill battle. Based on the Colorado verdict last year, however, helmet manufacturers can be held responsible for failing to adequately warn against the likelihood of concussions or suggesting that their helmets can fully protect against such head injuries.

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