Helmet Maker Says Consumer Claims Are Unsubstantiated

Lisa Hoffman

Calling the proposed class action they face “a press release in search of a claim,” football helmet maker Riddell Inc. and six subsidiaries are asking a federal judge to toss the consumers’ suit alleging the companies falsely represented that their helmets reduce the likelihood of concussions.

In an Aug. 1 motion to dismiss Thiel v. Riddell, the company portrays the consolidated suit filed by plaintiff Norma Thiel and five other consumers in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey as a shell of sensational allegations devoid of substance.

The plaintiffs present no specifics to back up their claims that Riddell falsely advertised or marketed its Revolution line of helmets as safer than others, the dismissal motion argues, and “barely alleges any facts relating to the individually named plaintiffs or the nationwide classes.”

The consumers’ complaint is one flank in a litigation blitz Riddell faces from former professional and college football players, actions that center on alleged defects in the helmets and Riddell’s failure to warn about the risk of concussions.

The focus of Thiel’s suit is Riddell’s allegedly false and deceptive references in its marketing to its helmets as being constructed with “concussion reduction technology,” and its citing of a 2003 University of Pittsburgh study that found the wearing of a Riddell helmet reduced the risk of concussion by 31 percent. The study has been discredited, at least partly because one of the study’s authors was a Riddell employee and because the company helped pay for it.

Riddell counters that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigated the company’s marketing claims and closed its probe in 2013, informing the company the agency would “not recommend enforcement at this time.” Riddell also cites an entirely independent 2011 study by Virginia Tech and Wake Forest universities that found the Riddell 360 helmet performed better than any other helmet, according to the motion.

Representing Riddell and its subsidiaries are Michael Innes and Joseph Boyle of Kelley Drye & Warren. Plaintiffs’ counsel is James Cecchi of Carella Byrne Cecchi Olstein Brody & Agnello.

Lisa Hoffman is a contributor to law.com.