Soft Cover Football Helmet Add-ons

Liability issues result in add-ons being banned

The Colorado High School Activities Association ruled that the helmet shell called the  Guardian Cap can’t be worn in games and that schools may void protection from helmet manufacturers’ warranties if they allow the use of such helmet shells during practices. Approximately 15 high school and youth teams in Colorado were using the Guardian Cap.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment issued a statement that read in part: “The addition of after-market items by anyone that changes or alters the protective system by adding or deleting protective padding to the inside or outside of the helmet, or which changes or alters the geometry of the shell or adds mass to the helmet, whether temporary or permanent, voids the certification of compliance with the NOCSAE standard.”

In my opinion

Add-on helmet productsWhen a youth football client asked my opinion on whether or not to experiment with the use of such helmet shell products in the face of concussion concerns, I provided the following response:

It is true that the attorney of a football player who has suffered a serious brain or spinal injury will sue all parties that could be remotely responsible, including the helmet manufacturer, helmet distributor, helmet cover manufacturer, helmet cover distributor,  conference administrators, coaches, sanctioning body, etc. The helmet manufacturer would certainly argue that that it was not responsible for the injury due to the use of the helmet cover product which voided the manufacturer’s warranty. I’m not sure whether the helmet manufacturer could completely escape liability with such an argument. If they were successful, that leaves the General Liability insurance policies of the helmet cover manufacturer including any distributors and the conference on the hook. It’s likely that the helmet manufacturer carries a much higher liability limit than the other parties.

From a common sense point of view, it would seem that the additional padding and shock absorption would lessen the impact. On the other hand, the larger diameter and weight could increase rotational torque which could also impact concussions. But common sense is not always reality. For example, commotio cordis (sudden cardiac arrest due to arrhythmia) is an infrequent but usually fatal occurrence in youth baseball when a ball strikes the heart at the precise millisecond of the heart rhythm. It made common sense that youth players should use padding or a shield to protect against this risk and a number of products were introduced to provide such protection. But, one lab study using pigs being shot in the heart by baseball pitching machines showed that this type of protective device actually made a commotio cordis event more likely. It is best to leave the safety decisions up to the scientists. Of course, scientific progress can be slow and it can be difficult to determine if they have an agenda. Also, scientists can be wrong even if most are in agreement.

So what’s the answer?

The safest play from a liability perspective is to go with the recommendations of 1) your manufacturer, 2) NOCSAE, and 3) the sanctioning/governing body if they have an opinion on the issue. There is always safety in siding with the recognized authorities, though, this does not mean that they are correct.

The manufacturers of soft helmet shell covers and other similar add-on devices claim that the big helmet manufacturers are shutting them out of the process with their influence over the various sanctioning bodies and NOCSAE.  They point out that smaller companies have historically played an important role with scientific research, creativity, and problem solving.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Source: Guardian Cap: Controversial Ruling May Mean End To Use In Colorado; Adrian Dater; Denver Post; 8-1-13