Should a company that manufactures football helmets be liable for the injuries sustained by a player?

Football is one of the most—if not the most—dangerous sports played in the U.S. today. In recent years, there has been a major push to make football more safe, both through new rules for gameplay and increased standards for safety equipment. However, these new safety standards and rules are not enough to fully prevent the concussions, head injuries, spinal injuries, and other injuries that come with a contact sport like football.

Lately, the role of helmet manufacturers has come into question. Should helmet manufacturers like Riddell be held liable when a football player suffers a concussion or other serious head injury? In many cases, the answer is not yet clear.

Understanding the legal issues behind football helmets and their manufacturers requires an understanding of “products liability” law. “Product liability” means that the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of a defective product can be held accountable for the injuries or damage caused by said defective product once it reaches consumers. Under this law, if a football helmet is found to be defective in some way, the manufacturer (or another party in the chain of manufacturing) could be held liable for damage caused.

There are three possible ways for a football helmet to be found defective:


  • Defectively designed helmet: This type of product liability case focuses on the original blueprints of the helmet. Was the helmet designed in a way that could cause harm to consumers? Was there a cost-effective alternative that would have made this product much safer? If the answer is yes to one—or both—of these questions, you could have grounds for a product liability case because of defective design. At the end of the day, if the helmet was manufactured according to a faulty plan, leading to serious injuries, the designer of the helmet could be in legal hot water.
  • Defectively manufactured helmet: This type of case deals with the finished product and whether or not it is safe for consumer use. If a helmet is manufactured defectively, typically someone at the factory (or someone between the factory and the store) made a mistake that ultimately led the helmet to be unsafe. There are a huge variety of ways that helmets can be manufactured incorrectly, but at the end of the day, if the helmet was not manufactured according to design specifications and it results in an unsafe final product, the manufacturer could be found liable.
  • Defectively marketed helmet:

While product liability cases can be complicated, it all boils down to the expectations of the consumer. Did the helmet live up to the ordinary expectations of the consumer? If not, there could be grounds for a product liability lawsuit—but not always. When it comes to a dangerous game like football, there is certainly a level of “assumption of risk” that takes place. However, that is not to say that every football-related injury should be chalked up to “just another football injury.” Helmet manufacturers have a duty to do everything they can to protect football players from serious head injuries, and if they fail to live up to that duty (or mislead consumers in the process), they should be held accountable for their negligence.