Family's lawsuit against Riddell, related to claim son's death was caused by concussions, will go to trial, judge rules

Cody Hamblin died in May 2016 after suffering a seizure while fishing.

May 17, 2019, 5:07 AM

A lawsuit against football helmet manufacturer Riddell, filed by the family of a 22-year-old who suffered a seizure and drowned while fishing, will go forward a judge in Ohio has ruled. The family claims their son's death was a result of brain damage suffered due to years of playing football.

Cody Hamblin was on a fishing boat on May 29, 2016, when the freak accident occurred -- four years after he stopped playing football. But medical tests after his death showed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head, according to the lawsuit.

CTE has gained nationwide prominence due to the diagnosis of the disease in prominent football-related deaths, including Aaron Hernandez, Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher.

"The complainant alleges Decedent wore Defendants' helmets while playing football, believing the helmets would keep Decedent safe from long-term effects of repeat brain injuries, sub-concussive hit, and cumulative brain trauma," the lawsuit, originally filed in November 2018 in Montgomery County, Ohio, civil court, states. "In sum, as a result of Decedent's belief in the helmet's safety, Decedent continued to play football, and ultimately suffered long-term brain damage that led to his untimely drowning death."

Cody Hamblin, of Miamisburg, Ohio, died after suffering a seizure while fishing in May 2016. His family has sued Riddell, the football equipment manufacturer, after discovering the 22-year-old suffered from brain damage due to football.
Courtesy Hamblin family

Judge Steven Dankof ruled Tuesday that five of the six claims against Riddell will be allowed to proceed: wrongful death, strict liability for design defect, strict liability for manufacturing defect, defects in warning or instructions and defect by failure to conform to representation.

The sixth claim, for fraud, was dismissed, with Dankof ruling it was "masquerad[ing]" as a product liability claim.

Hamblin played football from the time he was 8 until he was 18, including starring for Miamisburg High School, in Miamisburg, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton.

"We actually did a lot of research and talked to some doctors and felt like it would be very safe with all the equipment and protection that the children were wearing -- helmets and all that," Cody's father, Darren, who filed the suit, told "Good Morning America" in an interview airing Friday. "And so we let him play, and he really loved football from that point on. Football was the No. 1 thing in his life."

Riddell helmets in the research and development area at Riddell headquarters on October 5, 2017, in Des Plaines, Ill.
Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

Riddell has faced a number of similar lawsuits in the past, with varying outcomes.

A jury ruled in favor of a Colorado family in a lawsuit against the equipment maker in April 2013, determining it must pay over $3 million to the family of Rhett Ridolfi, who suffers from severe brain damage as a result of a football injury. Months earlier, a jury in Mississippi found Riddell not liable for a high school player's stroke.

The family of Hernandez, the former star tight end for the New England Patriots who was convicted of killing a friend in 2015 and later committed suicide in prison, filed suit in an ongoing case against Riddell.

Riddell said it will fight against claims from the Hamblin family, as it has done consistently in the other cases.

"Riddell has a decades-long history of designing, manufacturing and selling industry-leading, state-of-the-art football helmets," the company said in a statement provided to ABC News about the Hamblin case. "Plaintiff’s allegations are unproven and vigorously contested. The Court’s ruling dismissed plaintiff’s fraud claim while simply allowing others to proceed past this very initial pleadings stage.

"The plaintiff’s allegations face many other challenges before they could ever reach a trial, and Riddell is confident in its defense to these meritless claims."

Cody Hamblin, second from right, died after suffering a seizure while fishing in May 2016. His family has sued Riddell, the football equipment manufacturer, after discovering the 22-year-old suffered from brain damage due to football.
Courtesy Hamblin family

Riddell has provided gear to the NFL since 1989 and signed a five-year deal with the NFL that lasts through 2019. The helmet brand announced just last December it had entered into a new deal with Pop Warner Little Scholars, a nationwide organization of youth football teams and leagues.

The lawsuit is personal for the Hamblin family.

Darren Hamblin said he filed the lawsuit so "no other parent has to do what I’m doing right now."

"If one kid can be saved from going through this, from his family going through this, from keeping their family from having to go on and live with the guilt and the anguish," he said. "That's what I want to stop. And that's what my son would have wanted to stop."

ABC News' Marissa Parra and Sarah Messer contributed to this report.