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Court dismisses lawsuit claiming NFL put injured players on field

A federal appeals court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by 12 football players and the estate of one who had died that accused the National Football League of intentionally pressuring injured players back on the field for games after giving them medication.

The NFL so-called "return-to-play" scheme allegedly put players in harm’s way “despite having suffered physical injuries that had yet to fully heal,” according to documents in No. 17-16693, filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The suit names more than a dozen professional teams as defendants.  

After filing their initial complaint, the plaintiffs amended their complaint in November 2016 to include a cause of action under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which makes it a criminal penalty and a civil cause for action for acts performed by an alleged criminal organization.

A federal district court subsequently dismissed the RICO claim as time-barred because it fell outside of the four-year statute of limitations. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that their civil RICO claim was “timely because their RICO claim did not begin to accrue until March 2014 when plaintiffs allegedly first learned of defendants' fraudulent scheme,” according to documents.

Plaintiffs also argued that their RICO claim should be equitably tolled due to defendants' “fraudulent concealment” in misleading players, according to documents.

“Plaintiffs' argument that defendants' doctors and trainers engaged in ‘passive conduct,’ namely the failure to disclose the consequences of taking various medications, which concealed from plaintiffs the existence of their RICO claim, likewise fails,” the ruling states, adding that the plaintiff’s complaint is “replete” with facts that they took “pills on airplanes, in unmarked containers, and without prescriptions.”

The ruling also affirms that the case falls outside of the statute of limitations.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.