The federal judge presiding over NHL’s concussion litigation would like to see the lawsuit go to trial this year, according to a hearing transcript obtained by TSN.
The class action suit involves more than 150 players, alleging that the league prioritized its profit over their health and willfully ignored significant scientific research in order to do so. The NHL, in response, alleges that the players have always been responsible for their own health. (The league’s first response to the litigation tried to absolve NHL officials of responsibility by noting that players should have “put two and two together” and realized on their own that a hockey career could cause brain damage.)
The lawyers representing the players would ideally like to begin with a bellweather case centering on just one player, which could then lead to a second case focusing on the issue more broadly, according to TSN. That one player could be Mike Peluso, whose post-retirement struggle with grand mal seizures has been well-documented and the subject of separate personal litigation:
Court records show that the lawsuit involves players stretching across decades—those who played before helmets were deemed mandatory in the 1970s, those who played with helmets but before the league’s Concussion Program began in the 1990s, and those who have played in the past two decades. But filings show that the players’ legal team holds the NHL just as culpable for head injuries that occurred after the league took those safety measures:
“Helmets do not protect against concussion, giving players a false sense of protection, and the Concussion Program served only to give the false impression that the NHL was providing players with accurate risk analysis.”
While the NHL’s Concussion Program began in 1997, it did not issue any reports or official data until 2011, according to the players’ filing. The report released at that time only covered concussions in the league from 1997 to 2004, and it did not come with conclusive findings. “Listing nine specific study limitations, the report, fourteen years in the making, boiled down to a ‘more study is needed’ dodge,” the lawsuit reads, alleging that the league ignored outside research during the time that the report was being compiled and failed to properly investigate players retiring prematurely during that time due to concussions. “In short, the NHL chooses to avoid rigorous scientific study of the concussion issue, dodges even the implications of its own soft-pedaled and long-delayed report, and avoids grappling with the clear medical findings of other sports or the general practice of medicine regarding long-term brain diseases and head hits.”
The players’ filings also focus on the ways in which the NHL has promoted and glorified fighting as part of the sport, sending a message “to its players, coaches, and fans that blows to the head should not be considered serious injuries.” The suit alleges that the league has embraced fighting for so long to keep fans engaged, even though officials have long known that it is bad for player health and even as the Olympics and the NCAA have banned fighting in hockey.
This all stands in contrast to the NFL, which came to a settlement over the concussion lawsuit brought by former players in 2013. That settlement stopped the release of what potentially could have been thousands of pages of documents showing the league’s treatment and communication of concussions—likely bad publicity at best, truly damning at worst. But the NHL has reached no such settlement, and if the trial proceeds this year as is desired by the federal judge, all sorts of inside details stand to be revealed in the coming months. This has already started happening (remember these emails?) and it should only escalate as it heads to trial.
“The time has come for the NHL not only to care for those former players on whose backs and brains the League reaped billions of dollars,” the filing reads, “but also finally to put longterm player safety over profit and demonstrably dangerous tradition, especially as neither the NHL nor the game will suffer as a result.”