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10 former players sue NHL over concussions

Nov 25, 2013, 5:01 PM EDT

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From the Associated Press:

Ten former National Hockey League players are claiming in a class-action lawsuit that the league hasn’t done enough to protect players from concussions.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Washington, seeks damages to be determined at trial. The players are also seeking court-approved medical monitoring for their brain trauma and/or injuries, which they blame on their NHL careers.

The ex-hockey players claim that the NHL purposely concealed the risks of brain injuries faced by players, exposing them to unnecessary dangers.

Today’s lawsuit comes mere months after the NFL settled a lawsuit brought by thousands of former players over brain injuries suffered during their playing careers. That settlement was worth $765 million.

Per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the 10 former players are Gary Leeman, Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richard Dunn, Warren Holmes, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart, Morris Titanic and Rick Vaive.

For a PDF of the complaint, click here.

“The NHL has been aware of and understood the significance of the published medical literature dating from as early as the 1920s that there is a serious risk of short-term and long-term brain injury associated with repetitive traumatic impacts to the head to which NHL players are exposed,” reads part of the complaint.

“During that time, the NHL knowingly and fraudulently concealed from then-current NHL players and former NHL players the risks of head injuries in NHL games and practices, including but not limited to the risks associated with returning to physical activity too soon after sustaining a sub-concussive or concussive injury.”

The NHL has taken issue with the notion that the dangers of concussions have been ignored by the league.

“We have, on our own, a long history, going back to 1997, of taking concussions very seriously,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We spend a lot of time, money and effort working with the players’ association on player safety.”

  1. storminator16 - Nov 25, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    I’ve been waiting on this shoe to drop. League didn’t do much to protect itself in advance. This is going to be some interesting years of legal battle.

    • storminator16 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      Reading the PDF, this part bothers me, though:

      “The NHL persists in this conduct to date by, among other things, refusing to ban
      fighting and body checking and by continuing to employ hockey players whose main function is
      to fight or violently body check players on the other team (“Enforcers”).”

      I hate the fact they went after the enforcers in their argument. For the most part, those guys play a honest game. Its the agitators/pests/head shot artists in which are causing many of the problems including situations in which other players feel the need to “do something” which later results in the dangerous, unsafe atmosphere on the ice. Enforcers’ role just need to go back to being what it was: guys who could actually play some decent minutes but drop the gloves when the need to police the game is necessary. Having guys who skate 5 minutes a night needs to go, not the role.

      • jimw81 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:13 PM

        you are forgetting this part

        “(The) NHL itself did nothing to protect its players from unnecessary harm until 2010 … when it modified its so-called Rule 48.”

      • storminator16 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:26 PM

        jimw81, I guess your reply is to my “league didn’t do much to protect itself in advance” comment. Well, I go back to to Jason Chimera shoving Justin Schultz into the boards earlier in the season to back up my statement. That’s the kind of stuff the league needs to crack down on. Chimera only got a fine out of that. League needs to ensure guys need to respect the game and the other players in the league since the NHLPA isn’t going to do it.

      • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:32 PM

        It’s a big win for those (like me) who are against fighting because of the health issues resulting from concussions. It has to stop.

        “Scrappy Matthew Barnaby had to hang up the Bauers back in 2007 after a fight with Josh Gratton of the Phoenix Coyotes left him concussed.”

        “Stu Grimson took part in over 200 fights. that led to a number of concussions over the years. It was a fight against former NHL heavyweight Georges Laraque (of the Oilers at the time) in 2001 that knocked Grimson out for good. He was never able to shake the post-concussion symptoms, so he decided to just hang up the skates.”

        “Thornton out 7-10 days with concussion after fighting Sabres’ Scott”

        A study by the NHL’s Hockey Operations department, released April/2011, looked at concussions in the league over the past two seasons. Here are some stats that many have been asking for;
        Fighting is over 43 times more likely to result in a man-game lost to a concussion than a legal hit is. The numbers show that only 56 concussions were caused by close to 56,000 hockey hits.

      • gret9 - Nov 26, 2013 at 9:00 AM

        So these folks are advocating a ban on body checks, WFT?!?!?

      • storminator16 - Nov 26, 2013 at 10:12 AM

        By reading the black & white of their motion, it kinda sounds that way. I for one, would be all for guys playing the puck more instead of going for the big hit. Back in the day, if a guy did that he’s the kind of guy that drops the gloves. However, we have these “oh, it was a clean hit….why are they fighting….oh, the humanity!” crowd, which exasperates the problem they are trying to rally against. Remove the body armor some of these guys wear I think we’ll see some of that stuff go away.

    • laprimachatte - Nov 26, 2013 at 3:32 PM

      I figured it wouldn’t be too long coming after the NFL settlement but I really hope this isn’t what begins the ban on fighting. They *can’t* take fighting out of hockey, it would ruin the sport!

  2. ibieiniid - Nov 25, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    And so it begins…

  3. ibieiniid - Nov 25, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    Lemme just say…. Morris Titanic. Badass.

  4. stcrowe - Nov 25, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Wow. Some of these guys played in the 1970s.

  5. hammerhead5573 - Nov 25, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    I don’t know, some of this jsut isn’t adding up to me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard a football player say they didn’t care about the extent of the injury, they wanted to be back out there with their teammantes. In hockey, you hear how “I want to be back out there with the boys”. At some ponit didn’t these guys say to themselves man these headaches really suk, I am not playing until it goes away. Ok I get it, there’s pressure and the next guy up may take your job forever and you may never get in a locker room again in your life. I guess I would rather have that, than the after effects of multiple concussion’s and not even remembering your kids birthday.

    • mp1131211 - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      You say you get it, but it sounds like you don’t. If your job depends on getting out there, then its not really fair to say its their choice to get back out there. If I tell an employee, “Either show up early tomorrow or I’ll find someone that will” that’s not exactly the employees choice, especially if they have a useless degree from college because “tutors” did all their homework for them and they have no skills but the skills for the job they are doing.

  6. hockeyflow33 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    The NFLPA’s case hinged on the doctors knowingly providing false and misleading information on concussions at the instruction of team owners. This complaint barely alleges that and not one player played post-1997 when the research program they note, went into effect.

    I can’t see how basing your case off a research study done in the 1920’s is a good idea.

    • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:26 PM

      You’re right. They may or may not win. But, this case has the opportunity to open the flood gates for others. Matthew Barnaby and Stu Grimson had to retire because they were concussed during a fight. There is more stiff that’s going to hit the fan. Next league to be sued can very will be the CHL. The medical science is not on the NHL side.

  7. esracerx46 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Who?

  8. jimw81 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    i was waiting for this shoe to drop after the nfl settlement. There is a total difference between the nfl and nhl. NHL has acknowledge this problem for a decade while NFL did NOTHING. NHL is the only sport out of the 4 sports that works with their partners to make the equipment and rules better for the players and the only sport that cares about ‘player safety’. They actually work with their players union to resolve this issue.

    • ibieiniid - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:16 PM

      wait, did two people just use “shoe to drop” in one section?

    • storminator16 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:46 PM

      I would say in regards to equipment, going to composite sticks has made the game very un-safe…

      • storminator16 - Nov 25, 2013 at 8:30 PM

        Furthermore, the body armor some of these guys wear makes the game un-safe.

    • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:22 PM

      How as the NHL improved equipment to prevent players from getting concussed during the normal course of the game, and when the play stops to watch a fight?

      • jimw81 - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:10 PM

        The nhl has improved the game by going to the manufactures of the helmet and fix the paddling inside the helmet to help the brain take the blows to the head is the league looked at ways to fix the shoulder pads.

        On the medical side they have an tougher concussion policy than the nfl. If u saw the 24/7 winter classic btw flyers and rangers they showed point the policy with grioux.

        But the one thing didn’t improve how to interpret rule 48.

      • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:33 PM

        It has been scientifically proven that no helmet can prevent concussions. They can help in preventing skull fractures. A blow to the helmet doesn’t prevent the brain from being compressed inside the skull. A punch to the helmet or directly to the head will have the same effect on the brain.

      • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:40 PM

        jimw81, not sure the NHL has a tougher policy. Both use pretty much the same policies. i.e a player who has rec’d a blow to the head must be taken inside the dressing to pass the IMPact test, which requires every player to be put through the baseline testing, which is then used to compare results after the test is administered following a head blow. The IMpact is widely used by professional and college teams.

  9. esracerx46 - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:12 PM

    Aitken-14 NHL games.
    Titanic- 19 NHL games
    Banks- 20 NHL games
    Dunn- 5 EIHL games
    Holmes- 45 NHL games

    The other guys did play a substantial amount in the NHL.

    • hockeyflow33 - Nov 25, 2013 at 11:40 PM

      There’s a reason why there is only 5 plaintiffs in the class so far

  10. muckleflugga - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    the nhl will be richly and deservedly condemned as this and related lawsuits unfold; the most damaging evidence is its sudden attention to concussion protocol…

    this held in contrast to a time when injured players were compelled to continue playing in the same game, or being rushed back to play in following games if unable to return to play on the given night

    one only needs to research literature defining the game as it moved through time to see how greed was and remains the single greatest concern for team owners, players’ health be damned

    the nhl will have opportunity to rationalize…

    how its game officials through the present nurture rather than stop fighting, kicking debris aside, creating the ring within the ring, then letting players have at it in what amounts to nothing more than bloodsport for ravening fans

    how its referees are compelled by league best practice to stand aside while players are bludgeoned, creating a forum for the spectacle rather than stopping the damaging assaults

    how paltry five minute penalties and subsequent fines if any, control the violence and its lingering physical damage

    how its entire discipline protocol is founded on lagging indicators, measured only by residual injury…no harm, no foul, nudge nudge wink wink, wot?

    how its discipline procedure and table is altered to accommodate player or team prestige, influence of owners or team management, and impact on a teams competitiveness in reaching for or performing in the playoffs

    how it has ignored impact of changing technology and size of players on the sport of hockey; the most glaring oversights are rinks themselves…as always, either spectators and players have to be killed or badly injured before even nominal alterations to rinks have been made

    how the likes of brian burke, john tortorella and others can stand bald-faced before cameras claiming players should be permitted to police themselves and the game when historical evidence shows no combatants in any arena are capable of self-policing, least of all the nhl…

    look for the nhl to be exposed for what it was and is:

    look for denial and rationalization

    look for transference of responsibility from ownership to players

    look for the nhl to spend prohibitive amounts of money defending itself, much of it drawn from insurance and likely exceeding cost of any fair and reasonable settlement

    look for the nhl to obfuscate over years and decades, much as it has done in the moore v. bertuzzi lawsuits

    see this, fascinating stuff…

    http://nflconcussionlitigation.com/?page_id=18

    • hockeyflow33 - Nov 25, 2013 at 11:42 PM

      You wrote nothing but garbage. The complaint pointed to checking as the main reason for concussion problems and loosely attributed fighting to the the problem.

  11. muckleflugga - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    morris titanic…

    without doubt, one of the best names to surface in hockey

    how he missed playing for the leafs is one of hockey’s great mysteries

    sabres, equally apt…?

  12. joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    And there you have it… I’ve been writing here, as others have, about unacceptable amount of concussions in the NHL, and made a parallel with what happened with the lawsuit in the NFL. The NHL is NOT doing enough, starting with the complete elimination of fights. All you pro fighters need to stand down. Sorry! It is in the best interest of the the present and future players and their families. This has to trickle down to junior players.

    • stakex - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:29 PM

      You constantly ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of concussions don’t come from fighting. In fact, its extremely rare for a fight to result in a concussion. If anything, whine about banning all body contact as better then 90% of concussions in the NHL are the result of body checks or dirt hits to the head….. not fighting. So again, why do you have such a hard on for banning fighting? Its obviously not because you are concerned about concussions, otherwise you would be on your soapbox demanding hockey become a non-contact sport.

      • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:33 PM

        Read this hot shot.

        “Scrappy Matthew Barnaby had to hang up the Bauers back in 2007 after a fight with Josh Gratton of the Phoenix Coyotes left him concussed.”

        “Stu Grimson took part in over 200 fights. that led to a number of concussions over the years. It was a fight against former NHL heavyweight Georges Laraque (of the Oilers at the time) in 2001 that knocked Grimson out for good. He was never able to shake the post-concussion symptoms, so he decided to just hang up the skates.”

        “Thornton out 7-10 days with concussion after fighting Sabres’ Scott”

        A study by the NHL’s Hockey Operations department, released April/2011, looked at concussions in the league over the past two seasons. Here are some stats that many have been asking for;

        Fighting is over 43 times more likely to result in a man-game lost to a concussion than a legal hit is.

        The numbers show that only 56 concussions were caused by close to 56,000 hockey hits.

      • ibieiniid - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:38 PM

        Joey, can you please cut it out with all the copy/paste on this? Its like you have a list of anti-fighting talking points that we see weekly.

      • stakex - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:40 PM

        You just sited a whopping THREE cases of guys getting hurt during a fight…. want a cookie?

        As for that stat that its 43 times more likely to suffer a concussion during a fight, well duh. Most hits in the NHL are soft little bumps that have zero percent chance to result in a concussion and are counted in that study. When we are talking about big hits though, hey are far more likely to result in a concussion then a fight due to the force involved.

        You also again ignore that better then 90% of concussions are not the result of fights. So you are on a soap box trying to prevent a small percentage of concussions…. proving even more that your beef isn’t concussions, its fighting.

      • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:51 PM

        It’s not hits big or small that cause concussions. It shots to the head as in elbow, shoulder, head hitting the ice or boards violently. Football players don’t get concussed every hit big or small. A small hit to the head can cause a concussion, where as big hit that doesn’t cause an impact to the head will likely cause a concussion. You just won’t admit the science because you like fighting. Bowman, Rutherford, Yzerman, and Shero all called for a ban on fighting, as did the mayo clinic. You think all these people have a hard on?

      • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 8:05 PM

        ibieiniid, what can I say? I do research and take notes. Others should do the same when it comes to concussions.

      • swatosh - Nov 26, 2013 at 9:45 AM

        joey4id – That’s not entirely true regarding Bowman, Rutherford, Yzerman, and Shero

        http://www.mlive.com/redwings/index.ssf/2013/10/steve_yzerman_wants_nhl_to_han.html

        “We’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be. Either anything goes and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

        That said, Bowman thinks fighting still has a place in hockey and agrees with those who say it’s a necessity in order to protect stars who might otherwise be in danger of getting abused physically by less-skilled players.

  13. csilojohnson - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    Well it was good while it lasted. Say farewell to hockey. Or at least hockey worth watching. Heres to hoping this drags out a decade or two.

    • joey4id - Nov 25, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      So, I guess you won’t be watching the olympics in Sochi or the SC Finals. There were only 2 fight during the SC final. Did you miss fighting? Wasn’t that series worth watching?

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:21 PM

        Joey, indeed, the TV ratings for Olympic hockey and SCP finals are usually higher than NHL regular season. It seems some people are willing to endure the apparent agony of watching a hockey game when there is little chance of seeing a fight but a great chance of seeing really exciting and highly skilled hockey. Inconceivable!

      • gret9 - Nov 26, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        Dude, it is not just about fighting. THEIR SUIT SAYS THEY WANT TO OUTLAW BODY CHECKS! Are you alright with that? If you are then your favorite game every year must be the All-Star game where nobody hits anybody and 20 goals are scored every game….not my idea of hockey.

      • joey4id - Nov 26, 2013 at 2:34 PM

        Dude, I’m not alright with that, and never ever said they should ban body checks. Like I said, and in case you missed it, Olympic Hockey and the SCF (only 2 fights last year) are highly entertaining. Sure! Fights add entertainment, and to a certain extent help sell the game to those who know little about the game.

    • hockeyflow33 - Nov 25, 2013 at 11:43 PM

      It won’t drag out at all, it will be dismissed for no cause.

  14. bsaures - Nov 25, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    It sounds like for a bunch of them an attempt at a cash grab. Some only played a dozen or so games so wouldnt have gotten paid alot.

  15. buffalo65 - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:23 PM

    Fighting is a waste of time, removes skill from the game and replaces it with Scott’s and Orrs. Only a matter of time till it’s gone. Won’t be soon enough. All you thugs saying you won’t watch when it happens guess what…..you will.

  16. sampulls - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:42 PM

    Does anyone else find joey4id as annoying as I do?

    • storminator16 - Nov 25, 2013 at 11:19 PM

      His heart is in the right place.

  17. hazlydose - Nov 26, 2013 at 1:25 AM

    It will be interesting to see how the courts interprets fighting in hockey. Will it be seen as part of the game and an implied duty of the player? Or will it be seen as a voluntary part of the game that must have willing participants.

  18. hazlydose - Nov 26, 2013 at 1:25 AM

    It will be interesting to see how the courts interprets fighting in hockey. Will it be seen as part of the game and an implied duty of the player? Or will it be seen as a voluntary part of the game that must have willing participants?

  19. somekat - Nov 26, 2013 at 2:14 AM

    The NHL was out in front of every other league when it came to concussions. Besides the equipment stuff that was noted below (you can even go all the way back to making helmets mandatory when the players were against it), to being the first league to have baseline tests, to the first league to require them to pass tests before going back into the game, they have gone above and beyond compared to other leagues.

    Players don’t a have a leg to stand on

  20. amityvillefun - Nov 26, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    Maybe the NHL will start taking this seriously instead of trying to fix the problem with band-aids and rule changes that don’t work.

  21. nhstateline - Nov 26, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    We don’t know whose side the science is on in this case. It is entirely possibly that 1) the entire concussion problem is a result of selection bias that makes CTE appear more widespread than it is, 2) that hockey head injuries may behave differently than football ones, 3) that the incidence and prevalence of these injuries is significantly different than in football, and 4) it isn’t clear when these injuries took place, if the problem is caused by a single problem or if it is caused by repeated exposure. By now in the football case, most of this is known. Plus, the NFLPA class had many more members and they had been trying to get a settlement for a long time. There are significant differences in this case and class. Or, in other words, just because something works in one case based on another sport one way, doesn’t mean it will work exactly like that in another. Personally, they could ban fighting today for all I care but then I’m not a minimally skilled professional hockey player who will be losing my job as a result of that decision so it’s easy for me to say that. I bet the other thing pro sports leagues figure out to do is start making players sign waivers before they can play in the league if, in fact, they aren’t already doing so.

  22. escape1221 - Nov 26, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    When you’re a player you have full understanding of the risks involved. These guys are just a bunch of broke washouts that need money. It’s lawsuits like these that make our legal system look like a joke.

    Checking and fighting is one of the great aspects of hockey that sets it apart. For all those who say fighting serves no purpose and should be banned usually don’t follow hockey and don’t understand how important it is. For example, a game can be stale with no energy and no scoring chances, after players drop the gloves, there’s always a huge boost of energy on both sides that usually results in more scoring. A lot of other pro sports, players walk around with a big heads and say and do what they please, you can’t do this in the NHL because there is someone that will put you in your place- you can’t take cheap shots or else you better be ready to deal with the consequences. Fighting makes the game honest and humble. Without contact and fighting hockey would become like basketball. No thanks.

  23. areaman714 - Nov 26, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    “The NHL has been aware of and understood the significance of the published medical literature dating from as early as the 1920s that there is a serious risk of short-term and long-term brain injury associated with repetitive traumatic impacts to the head to which NHL players are exposed,” reads part of the complaint.

    So. All this information was sealed and kept top secret and only available to those greedy league owners? The players and the NHLPA are too ignorant and stupid to do the research as well? I do not see a mass exodus from the NHL or the NFL despite the rise in consciousness that contact sports can and will result in injury.

  24. stevenlowell9 - Nov 26, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    There is something unique to this whole thing.

    The NHL has a history of labeling its player types as “scorers” and “enforcers”, and the more it has worked on padding its players, they ultimately have made the game more dangerous.

    How can these players honestly say they had “no idea”? They were hired to do a job and were labeled something by the team or coach when starting. Even goalies retire for hits to the head because the puck is a chunk of vulcanized rubber, and the player padding is like stone. The physical conditioning makes every player into a weapon.

    Maybe we should just stop all of this…and just go back to the beer league days? Or better yet…crazy idea…. take some accountability for your life choice to play a dangerous game. I stopped playing hockey at age 22 because I knew it was killing my knees.

  25. jeesay101 - Nov 27, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    How come the players, who are in the league right now, don’t get a voice. From what I understand the vast majority of players do not wish to see fighting removed. As they feel it is an integral part of the game. It is their safety that is in question, and they just have to sit back and deal with, whatever happens. Rule changes, equipment changes ect… The players that have filed the lawsuit could be, potentially, changing the sport of hockey as we know it, and those who are currently playing the sport just have to live with it. I guess the current players may be blinded by there love of the game and may not care for whats in there best interests, but they are adults who, should be able to at least have some kind of say.

  26. alberthofmann2 - Nov 27, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    The only 2 players I heard of are Leeman and Vaive…Never heard of the other guys…It’s as if their just trying to cash in now because they didn’t cash in then.

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