Miamisburg dad’s lawsuit against football helmet maker heads to trial

The father of a former Miamisburg High School football standout who died years later will get his day in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court against the manufacturer of Riddell helmets.

Darren Hamblin’s son, Cody, died in 2016 at 22 years old after a seizure preceded his drowning. The lawsuit brought in 2018 claimed an autopsy showed Cody Hamblin had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — the same condition found in many deceased NFL players that has led to numerous lawsuits.

Cody Hamblin started played football in 2001 at age 8 and continued until 2011, according to the complaint.

Judge Steven Dankof ruled this week that five of Hamblin’s six claims could move forward to a jury trial. Riddell’s attorneys had argued the case should be dismissed at summary judgment. No trial date is scheduled.

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“I think this ruling is also precedent-setting because we are looking at injuries that occurred far earlier than we had ever thought they were occurring,” Hamblin’s lawyer, Robert Finnerty, told the New York Post. “I think the argument being made is that there is no number of safe hits the brain can withstand.”

The counts moving forward include wrongful death, defect by failure to conform to representation, strict liability for design defect, strict liability for manufacturing defect and defects in warning or instructions. The dismissed claim alleged fraud.

“This claim encapsulates Plaintiff’s entire case,” Dankof wrote about the failure to conform to representation allegation. “Plaintiff alleges Defendants ‘knew that repetitive brain impacts in football games and practices created a risk of harm to tackle football players,’ and Defendants ‘misrepresented the safety of the equipment it designed, manufactured, tested, sold or distributed to tackle football participants.’ “

In response to a request for comment, Riddell sent this news organization a statement that said: “Riddell has a decades-long history of designing, manufacturing and selling industry-leading, state-of-the-art football helmets. Plaintiff’s allegations are unproven and vigorously contested. The Court’s ruling dismissed plaintiff’s fraud claim while simply allowing others to proceed past this very initial pleadings stage.

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“The plaintiff’s allegations face many other challenges before they could ever reach a trial, and Riddell is confident in its defense to these meritless claims.”

Dankof wrote that, taking plaintiff’s arguments at face value, the defendants alleged misrepresentations about their helmets put Hamblin at an increased risk of short-term and long-term injury.

The lawsuit filed in May 2018 claimed Hamblin developed brain and neurological damage while using Riddell helmets.

“We actually did a lot of research and talked to some doctors and felt like it would be very safe with all the equipment and protection that the children were wearing — helmets and all that,” Darren Hamblin told ABC. “And so we let him play, and he really loved football from that point on. Football was the No. 1 thing in his life.”

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Cody Hamblin died May 29, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ohio, when he was fishing during Memorial Day weekend with his grandfather. Cody Hamblin had a sudden seizure while on a boat, fell overboard into the water and died within a minute, according to the suit.

“Were Plaintiff alive, Plaintiff could have maintained an action and possibly recovered damages if death had not ensued,” Dankof wrote about the wrongful death claim. “Taking the factual allegations as true, and making all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff, the Court finds that the Complaint states a claim for wrongful death.”

In their motion to dismiss, Riddell’s attorneys wrote, “nowhere … does the plaintiff allege facts supporting any connection between (Hamblin’s) football-related head injuries and seizures — either in general or specific as to the decedent — nor does he allege any facts connecting CTE and seizures.

“The FAC likewise lacks any facts alleging that the decedent experienced any symptoms related to CTE or had any injuries or damages resulting from it.”

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In 2013, a Colorado jury ordered Riddell to pay $3.1 million of an $11.5 million ruling to a partially paralyzed high school football player.

The jury in Las Animas County found that Riddell failed to accurately warn users of the potential of concussions. Rhett Ridolfi, who reportedly has brain damage, also sued several high school administrators and coaches.

In 2012, a jury in Mississippi did not find the helmet manufacturer liable for a high school football player’s stroke after a 2006 game.

Former NFL players Mike Webster, Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Aaron Hernandez were found to have CTE, which was the subject of the 2015 movie, “Concussion,” which was inspired by Dr. Bennett Omalu’s study of the neurological deterioration.

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Several retired NFL players such as Paul Hornung have sued Riddell and other helmet manufacturers in ongoing class-action lawsuits. Hornung alleged the company knew of the dangers of brain trauma more than 50 years ago but failed to warn players.

Also in 2015, the NFL agreed to settle a legal battle with players for about $1 billion, the details of which are still being negotiated.

Former Alter High School, University of Wisconsin and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired in 2015 after one year of professional football because of the risks about long-term health effects due to head injuries.

"Chris played as hard as he could that last year, gathered his information and made his decision," Zebbie Borland, Chris' mother, told the Dayton Daily News' Tom Archdeacon in 2018. "He always said he made the decision for himself, he didn't make it for the rest of the world."


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