- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) - A Maryland judge on Friday limited the evidence a jury will hear about football helmets in a wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from the head-injury death of a Frostburg State University football player in 2011.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge David Boynton granted two motions by Illinois-based manufacturer Kranos Corp. to exclude evidence about its marketing of Schutt-brand helmets, the brand fullback Derek Sheely was issued by the school’s athletic staff, according to the lawsuit filed by his parents.

The jury won’t hear about a letter U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, wrote to the Federal Trade Commission earlier in 2011 stating that Schutt Sports advertisements may have conveyed false impressions about helmet safety. One of the YouTube ads showed a bowling ball being dropped onto a watermelon wrapped in Schutt’s thermoplastic urethane padding, according to Udall’s letter.

The Schutt DNA Pro Plus helmet that Sheely wore carried a tag stating, “All helmet systems are designed with the intent to reduce concussions,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit contends the statement was a false representation, and that the helmet was “defectively designed.”

Boynton found that the Udall letter referred to misleading advertising, and wasn’t relevant to the assertion of a helmet defect.

The judge also granted Kranos’ motion to exclude references to a press release the company issued and then retracted as part of its marketing campaign for the Vengeance helmet line, introduced five months after Sheely died in August 2011. The press release read, in part, “NFL and college-level football players will soon have the opportunity to face their foes head-on with Vengeance.” Head-to-head hits, which the lawsuit says Sheely was repeatedly subjected to in practice, have been banned in the NFL to prevent concussions and other serious injuries.

Kranos attorney Robert Klein said the press release was an early draft that was inadvertently released. He said it was “wholly irrelevant to any issue in this case.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Kenneth McClain argued that the document demonstrated Kranos’ recklessness.

Other defendants include the NCAA, Frostburg State athletic staff members and Pennsylvania-based sports-equipment retailer George Heider, who sold the helmet to the school. All have denied the lawsuit’s assertions that their negligence led to Sheely’s death.

The trial is scheduled for 24 days, starting June 20.

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