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Colorado lawsuit leads way on football helmet injuries

8:43 AM, Feb 24, 2014   |    comments
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 PDF Document: RIDDELL response statement  PDF Document: Riddell Confidential Helmet Research

KUSA - What kind of football helmet is your child wearing and is it the best one to protect against concussions?

Watch the 9Wants to Know investigation Monday night at 9 and 10.

Football helmet maker Riddell is appealing a multi-million dollar jury award, involving a Colorado man who suffered permanent brain injuries on the field. 9Wants to Know is following the developments in the Rhett Ridolfi case as part of a statewide investigation on quality of high school football helmets.

Ridolfi was at football practice at Trinidad High School in August 2008 when he was hit hard during a blocking drill. It took Rhett's coaches hours to realize he needed medical help. He suffered brain damage that left him with paralysis on his left side.

"It makes me feel sad and useless that I have a messed up arm and leg and stuff," Ridolfi said in a 2013 interview to Insider Exclusive, which reports on legal matters nationwide.

"Rhett is able to function, but he doesn't really function in life like we do," said Frank Azar, Ridolfi's attorney. "The impulse centers in the frontal lobe of his brain have been basically impaired. You just never know what he's going to do."

Azar helped Rhett's family file suit against the coaches, school officials, and company that made his helmet, Riddell.

Riddell had advertised players wearing "Revolution" model helmets were less likely to suffer concussions.

While the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) had certified the helmet, Azar says Riddell had confidential research showing no helmets could prevent concussion.

"Riddell and the NFL went to a company called Biokinetics in Canada, and they basically threw out the NOCSAE standards and told them... the standards they were using to test these helmets were a joke," said Azar. "And they never told anyone."

NOCSAE says their certification standards are designed to prevent skull fractures and other life threatening injuries, not to necessarily prevent concussions.

The jury determined Riddell had failed to warn Ridolfi and his family about potential for injury. The jury awarded Ridolfi $11 million, with $3 million to come from Riddell.

Riddell is appealing the Colorado verdict. Riddell faces a similar lawsuit from a former high school player in California. That case is scheduled for trial this week.

Meanwhile, the company stands by the quality of its helmets. A Riddell spokesperson tells 9Wants to Know "the jury found no issue with the design of the Riddell Revolution helmet and its components." Riddell adds it's the only manufacturer to currently have two five-star football helmets rated by Virginia Tech.

For three years, Virginia Tech has been testing football helmets using a STAR rating system to measure how they absorb impact. Five stars is best.

Colorado high school football coaches are making decisions now on what helmets their players should wear next year. 9Wants to Know contacted all 179 Colorado school districts to learn how many are using five star helmets and how many are using lower-rated equipment.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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