Mother Levels Wrongful Death Suit Against Helmet Manufacturer | Athletic Business

Mother Levels Wrongful Death Suit Against Helmet Manufacturer

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Jeanine Smith sought financial retribution over the death of her son Andre due to a blunt force head trauma suffered on the football field. Smith was injured in 2015 when he was struck by another player during a kick return play. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, he was knocked down but immediately got back up again, and complained of a headache before losing consciousness. Smith never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead the following morning.

The wrongful death suit accuses Riddell, the manufacturer of the helmet Smith was wearing, of giving inadequate warning of the dangers of using the Revolution Speed helmet without making sure that the protective air bladders are properly inflated. The air bladders nested inside the Revolution Speed help to fit the helmet tightly to the player’s head. Investigators hired by the Chicago board of Education found that the air bladders at the crown and rear of Andre Smith’s helmet were either improperly inflated or unable to sustain air pressure.

"Air bladders by design are difficult at best for the end user to be using it as needed to not increase the harm of brain injury," legal consultant Kimberly Archie told "What system does the manufacturer or sport have in place to ensure reasonable proper use? Who checks it? Is there an equipment check each game and practice that denotes that the helmets had proper inflation of bladders? Do they write it in a log?"

Riddell has a reputation of being an active advocate for athlete safety, notably through its Smarter Football campaign, which grants protective football gear to teams who can show their commitment to utilizing safe playing practices. In a study that gathered data over a span of five years from 2005 to 2010, the Revolution Speed helmet by Riddell was found to excel over other products in reducing the risk of concussions, and has a 5-Star rating from Virginia Tech’s STAR evaluation system. 

However, as noted helmet expert Kevin Guskiewicz told Athletic Business in 2012, "Helmets are not designed to prevent concussion. Companies are building good helmets that can prevent structural head injuries, but concussion is a functional, not a structural, injury.”

Of course, the risk of injury would increase if protective equipment were not used as intended, which may be a contributing factor in Smith’s death. According to an assistant coach with Phillips High School, coaches and players have little guidance on what correct inflation means. "I've never seen a Riddell rep, or even a handout stating what proper inflation should be,” the coach told “Plus, it's really a person-to-person thing. Each player likes their air different, and they all complain when it's too tight. Which, in the helmet company's defense, is the actual problem."

The six-count suit also levels claims against the Chicago Board of Education, stating that the school should have known the safety parameters of the equipment and made sure the players were using it correctly. It is yet unclear how much the Smith family hopes to gain from the suit.

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