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NHL Lawsuits Gain Momentum

As you have likely heard by now, in August the NFL agreed to pay $765 million dollars to settle a lawsuit by 4,500 former players alleging pro football’s concealment of information concerning the danger of concussions. The agreement spared NFL executives from disclosing what they knew and when they knew it. This lessened the hit the public relations would surely be taking after news of the settlement hit the media.

Last week, 10 former NHL players filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in Washington, claiming that the NHL similarly did not inform players about the perils associated with repetitive brain injuries. Among the former players was Rick Vaive, the former captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he recently asked to have his name removed from the suit. According to Vaive’s lawyer, Trevor Whiffen, Vaive “misunderstood the nature of the proceeding” and has no interest in suing the NHL.

Allegedly 200 former NHL players have joined the suit but their names have not been made public as of yet. There has been no support voiced by Pat LaFontaine, Keith Primeau, Paul Kariya, or Eric Lindros: whose careers were ended by concussions.

In 1997, the NHL established a concussion study group. Since then, the league has increased the severity of penalties for blows to the head and has also established a concussion treatment protocol. Helmets were made mandatory for players who signed pro contracts after June 1, 1979, and made visors mandatory for players who enter the NHL starting with this season.

The release from the attorneys of the former players stated that “In 2004 the NHL introduced updates to the rule-set to encourage a faster, more exciting, and ultimately more marketable product. As a result, the number of violent in-game collisions and occurrence of head trauma have increased. When coupled with the NHL’s refusal to protect players by banning full-body checking or penalizing on-ice fist fights, the league has created a dangerous atmosphere for players. The complaint alleges that the NHL either ignores or consistently lags behind other hockey leagues in adopting protections for players in accordance with current medical knowledge of concussions. Instead, the NHL continues to glorify and empower players known as “enforcers”- players with the singular intention of injuring the opposing team.”

In part the suit claims, “The NHL’s active and purposeful concealment of the severe risks of brain injuries exposed players to unnecessary dangers they could have avoided had the NHL provided them with truthful and accurate information and taken appropriate action to prevent needless harm.”

Former Bruins Coach Don Cherry said he felt sorry for some players “that maybe got whacked a little” but declared the suit “a money grab.” Former forward Jeremy Roenick was scornful. “They can go after the league that they craved to be in since they were little kids and paid their salary,” Roenick stated, adding he knew the risks involved but played because he loved the game.

Mel Owens is an attorney and partner at Namanny, Byrne and Owens of Laguna Hills, one of two firms behind the lawsuit. He is also a former Rams linebacker. Owens said the case against the NHL wouldn’t be weakened because some of the plaintiffs didn’t wear helmets or other gear that might have shielded them from brain injuries.

“That’s not the issue. The issue is after they had the injury, what did they do? What did they know when they had the injury?” he said. “Whatever happened on the ice or field were sanctioned. The NHL, the NFL, in both cases the rules are promulgated by the league.” He acknowledged that the NHL suit did have some parallels to the former suit against the NFL.

The suit also alleges that research on brain injuries has gone on since the 1920s but was ignored by the NHL. “If it’s out there, you have the duty to inform,” Owens said. “There are a lot of issues that are raised. A lot of elements to it, a lot of moving parts. This is the beginning stages and we’ll see what happens.”

Unfortunately, some of the associated injuries and related symptoms are suffered by victims of motorcycle and car accidents. If you or a loved one, are experiencing any of the physical, cognitive or emotional symptoms discussed below; give us a call today. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA has offices in Clearwater and Bradenton and our personal injury law firm routinely handles claims and litigates cases involving closed head injuries. We are available for a free consultation by calling our office @ 727-451-6900.