SBD/November 26, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Group Of Former NHLers Launch Concussion Lawsuit, Claim League Concealed Risks

Former NFLer and disability attorney Mel Owens is leading the suit
Ten former NHLers in a new class-action lawsuit claim that the league "has not done enough to protect players from concussions," according to Gemma Karstens-Smith of the TORONTO STAR. The lawsuit "comes just months after" the NFL agreed to pay $765M to settle lawsuits with "thousands of former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems." Led by former NFL player and disability attorney Mel Owens, the NHL lawsuit "seeks damages and court-approved, NHL-sponsored medical monitoring for injuries the players say were a result of their hockey careers." The suit alleges that the league "knew about scientific evidence saying players who suffered repeated head injuries were at greater risk for illness and disabilities, but failed to protect players from unnecessary harm until 2010." The suit argues that the league "continues to contribute to injuries by refusing to ban fighting and bodychecking, and by employing 'enforcers' whose main job is to fight or violently bodycheck opponents." It also accuses the league of "promoting a 'culture of violence' in which players are praised for their fighting and 'headhunting' skills." The suit "details injuries the players say resulted from their time in the league, including sleep disorders, memory loss and depression" (TORONTO STAR, 11/26). The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon notes the suit also claims "a player can sustain close to one thousand or more hits to the head in one season without any documented incapacitating concussion. Such repeated blows result in permanently impaired brain function." The players allege that the NHL "knew this and did not tell them, then refused to do anything about it, which amounts to 'willful and malicious conduct'" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/26).

KNEW A LAWSUIT WAS COMING? Octagon Hockey Dir Allan Walsh, who has campaigned to raise awareness of NHL concussions, said, "I think we all saw this coming. The NHL commenced its concussions program 16 years ago and took no affirmative steps to protect players until 2011. All we ever heard from the NHL was 'More studies are needed' and 'We are the first sports league to have a working concussion study group.'" Walsh added that he expects "similar suits to be filed soon in other jurisdictions" (USA TODAY, 11/26). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau noted, "Everyone from NHL GMs and team owners to player agents have heard rumblings that this was a likelihood and the league has had a strategy to deal with this day for some time." But the NHL "is famous for wanting to control the environment in which it does business -- and this time, it may wind up in a courtroom, where control is out of its hands" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/25).

RISKY BUSINESS: In Calgary, Eric Francis notes Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke was "frank when asked about concussions hours before word came down the NHL was being sued." He said, "The NHL doesn’t get any credit for being industry leaders -- diagnosing and creating protocol to follow." Burke: "We’re going to have concussions in hockey. What we owe players is a full description of the risks involved with playing. As long as a player fully understands the risks, why should we feel sorry for him when he gets hurt?" (CALGARY SUN, 11/26).
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