CHICAGO (CN) – Riddell, which used to make football helmets for the NFL, is responsible for the “horrific” suicide of former player Paul Oliver, his widow claims in court.
Oliver, 29, “died horrifically in front of his wife and children via self-inflicted gunshot to the head” in September 2013 after playing football for 20 years, according to a lawsuit filed by Chelsea Oliver last week in Cook County, Ill.
Oliver played five seasons in the National Football League (NFL), mostly with the San Diego Chargers, plus a brief stint with the New Orleans Saints.
After his death, Oliver was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease caused by repeat concussions and head injuries common in boxers and football players. CTE can lead to memory loss, erratic behavior, impaired judgment, aggression, depression and dementia.
William Gibbs of Corboy & Demetrio, the attorney for Oliver’s widow, said that Oliver was showing the “hallmark problems” of CTE before his death, including bouts of depression and the inability to control his impulses.
Gibbs adds that in an HBO sports special Chelsea was interviewed for she “talks about how [Oliver] wasn’t the man she married. He was changing right before her eyes.”
The March 11 lawsuit says Oliver’s “depression, explosivity, short-term memory problems, headaches and other emotional problems had reached a point of no return.”
According to CNN, Oliver was depressed about the end of his football career and had been fighting with Chelsea and talking about divorce. On the night of his death, he had been drinking and arguing with her before he shot himself in their home in front of her and their two sons, now ages 4 and 5.
Oliver’s death followed a string of ex-NFL player suicides, several also diagnosed with CTE afterwards. CNN pointed to a study showing 33 of 34 NFL players were also found to have the disease after their deaths.
On Monday, the NFL acknowledged for the first time that football injuries and CTE are linked, according to an ESPN report. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s vice president of health and safety, told a U.S. House of Representatives committee that the “answer to that question is certainly yes,” but refused to expand on the role concussions play in CTE development.
Last week’s lawsuit says Riddell, which had an exclusive helmet licensing agreement with the NFL until 2013, worked with the league “in a long-term plan to conceal material information about football’s link to CTE and other neurological/neurobehavioral conditions.”
Riddell and other sports equipment manufacturers formed the National Operating Committee on Standards for Equipment Safety in 1968 to study the safety of football helmets, but actually used the organization to fund and perform sham studies that falsely showed there was no link between football injuries, helmet safety and CTE, Oliver’s widow claims.
According to the complaint, Riddell, despite knowing the “safety risks relating to all helmets,” refused to “warn that their helmet systems could not, and would not, prevent CTE and/or latent brain injury.”
The March 11 lawsuit says CTE led to Oliver’s “horrific demise.”
In 2002, Riddell released a new helmet marketed as reducing concussions by 31 percent, although there was no testing done to prove the claim and it used the same defective materials to ineffectively absorb shock as the older helmets, according to the lawsuit.
A study by the Cleveland Clinic in 2011 found that “modern football helmets are no better at protecting against concussions than vintage ‘leatherhead’ football helmets,” a fact the complaint says the NFL and Riddell knew and actively covered up.
Oliver’s widow also filed a lawsuit in California against the NFL, the Chargers, the Saints and Riddell in 2014, but it was voluntarily dismissed.
Gibbs says a judge handling about 5,000 claims against the NFL that had been consolidated in Pennsylvania issued an order that no further claims could be filed. He says a settlement was granted, but is being appealed. Oliver refiled her case against only the helmet companies.
Riddell is charged in the lawsuit with civil conspiracy, strict liability, negligence and fraudulent omission and concealment.
Erin Griffin, the director of corporate communications for Riddell and BRG Sports Inc., its parent company, said Riddell cannot comment on any pending litigation.
Corboy & Demetrio are partnering with The Brad Sohn Law Firm in Coral Gables, Fla., and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in New York on the case.
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