Judge: Lawsuit filed over death of Vikings' Stringer can proceed
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A federal judge ruled Thursday that Korey Stringer's widow can proceed with her negligence lawsuit against the NFL and equipment maker Riddell Inc. over his heatstroke death.
Kelci Stringer sued the league and Riddell following her husband's death in 2001, claiming the NFL hadn't done enough to insure that equipment used by players protected them from injuries or deaths caused by heat-related illnesses.
Korey Stringer, a 335-pound lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, died from heatstroke after he practiced in the sweltering heat and humidity that pushed his body temperature to 108.8 degrees. He was 27.
Judge John Holschuh dismissed one of the lawsuit's claims, in which Kelci Stringer argued that the NFL didn't set proper guidelines for practicing in the heat or provide information to coaches and trainers on how to recognize, treat and prevent heat-related illnesses.
However, the judge allowed the claim that the league and its subsidiary, NFL Properties, approved equipment that didn't protect players from injury, including heat-related illnesses. The claim argues Riddell's helmets and shoulder pads are not fit for their intended use and act as an insulating blanket, preventing evaporation and heat dissipation.
"We're gratified that Judge Holschuh has held that Kelci Stringer deserves to take her case before a jury and show that the NFL, NFL Properties and Riddell should have done more to prevent his death," Stringer family attorney Paul De Marco said.
NFL spokesman Joe Browne declined to comment. Attempts to reach Riddell were not immediately successful.
The NFL had argued for dismissal of the entire suit on the basis that the players' working conditions are covered by their labor agreements. Riddell argued the contract also pre-empted the claim against the company because the lawsuit alleged use of its equipment was "league-mandated."
But the judge said Kelci Stringer would not have to show why her husband was wearing Riddell equipment to win her claim against the company.
"The fact that he may have been required, as a condition of his employment, to wear Riddell equipment is simply irrelevant to the question of whether that equipment was negligently designed or manufactured or unreasonably dangerous for its intended use," he wrote.
Kelci Stringer originally sued the Vikings, claiming they didn't give her husband proper medical care after he collapsed following a blocking drill in training camp. But in November 2005, the Minnesota Supreme Court sided with two lower courts and blocked her from pursuing the wrongful death lawsuit against the team and several employees.
The district judge who dismissed the lawsuit against the team allowed a medical malpractice case against the doctor and the hospital where Stringer was taken following his collapse in Mankato, Minn. They settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in May 2003.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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