A group of retired NFL players who claim they suffered permanent damage or addiction from the team-aided use of opioids and painkillers have had their lawsuit against the league reinstated by an appeals court.
A federal judge had dismissed the proposed class-action lawsuit filed by former Chicago Bears stars Richard Dent, Jim McMahon and others in 2014, finding that the collective bargaining agreement between NFL owners and players preempted the players' complaints and provided other avenues for resolution.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco disagreed and overturned that ruling on Thursday, saying "the district court erred in holding that the players' claims were preempted".
The 30-page opinion issued by the three-judge panel means the players will have another shot to have their claims heard in court.
Originally filed in May 2014, the lawsuit alleges a "culture of drug misuse" in which players received cocktails of medications, including opioids, local anesthetics and anti-inflammatory drugs, so they could continue to play through injuries.
The appeals court did not address the merits of the lawsuit, focusing solely on whether the case should be allowed to proceed.
"Perhaps plaintiffs can prove these elements; perhaps not. That must await completion of discovery," the opinion states. "We hold only that the plaintiffs' negligence claim regarding the NFL's alleged violation of federal and state laws governing controlled substances is not preempted."
Attorneys representing the former players applauded the opinion, issued on the opening day of the 2018 NFL regular season.
"Our clients view this as a sweeping victory and an amazing win," attorney Steven Silverman told The Washington Post. "We look forward to moving forward and providing a legal mechanism for much-deserved relief."
The league disputes the players' allegations.
"We have strong arguments on the merits of the case, which we have litigated successfully already," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "Every claim brought by every plaintiff was dismissed for a variety of reasons and we expect the same outcome."